HPC, Clouds & Big Data Converge at ISC Cloud 2012 – Part One

By Tiffany Trader

September 25, 2012

It’s been an exciting couple weeks for HPC in the Cloud, attending a set of important HPC cloud conferences in Europe. Last week EGI had their Fall Technical Forum in Prague, colocated with GlobusEUROPE, while this week, ISC Cloud hosted their annual event in Mannheim, Germany, organized by Uber Cloud Experiment leader Wolfgang Gentzsch.

Dorint Congress Hotel MannheimWhile the first conference was laser-focused on enabling research, albeit with the help of industry as in the case of the European Science Cloud – Helix Nebula, ISC Cloud welcomed a wide-range of research and industry partners to the ample and modern venue at the Dorint Congress Hotel in Mannheim.

The broad and ambitiously-dense program attracted a nice balance of users and technology enablers. Intel, HP, IBM-Platform, SGI, Mellanox, Bright Computing were there as invited speakers, as were the major HPC ISVs. Representatives from Helix Nebula partner institutions CERN and EMBL delivered presentations as did many other university and research institutions. The conference was designed with a fast-paced main track, with free time built-in to enable side discussions to take place. Despite being only a two-day event, so much was covered that days one and two will be reviewed in separate articles.

The event got started on Monday as organizer Wolfgang Gentzsch welcomed participants and laid out the landscape for the tight-paced agenda. Gentzsch asked the audience to consider why acceptance of HPC cloud has seemingly been so slow despite the benefits we’re all familiar with. Is it true that Europe is one-to-two years behind the US as some have speculated? Gentsch also discussed the initial results that have come in from Uber Cloud Experiment, which is bringing the primary stakeholders together to promote the adoption HPC in the cloud and with it deliver the intended benefits of innovation and increased competitiveness to small-to-mid size enterprises.

The honor of delivering the opening keynote went to Bob Jones of CERN, who started off with an overview of CERN’s big data requirements and the progress of the EU Science Cloud, Helix Nebula. The project is shaping up nicely as the current two-year pilot phase continues. CERN is one of the three flagship users in addition to the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) and the European Space Agency (ESA). The three demand-side partners were picked expressly because of the scope of their research and computing requirements. If successful, the next set of users will have the assurance of a solution that has been vetted on some of the biggest problems in terms of data size. The machine at CERN is capable of generating 1 petabyte of data per second, although only 1 percent of that goes through to the next stage. In 2011, about 22 PB of data were written, and in 2012, the figure is expected to jump to 30 PB.

Jones noted that science will continue to push against processing boundaries with upper limits defined by economic realities and budgets more than anything else. Starting in 2013, the accelerator will shut down for 13 months to be upgraded, and afterwards will generate even more data. The processing demand is “basically limitless,” according to Jones.

The next speaker to take the stage was EMBL’s Rupert Lueck. He discussed the needs of system biology scientists and the study of DNA and life on earth. While next-gen technologies have led to genetic sequencing as a more affordable solution, the process of reading and assembly require a lot of computing infrastructure and expertise, Lueck noted. To give an idea of the scope of next-gen sequencing at the big picture, there are 8.7 billion estimated species in the world. The worldwide existing sequencing capacities can easily generate exabytes of new data each year. EMBL’s flagship project for Helix Nebula will implement a novel cloud service to simplify large-scale genome analysis. Tailor-made on-demand HPC and bioinformatics resources will help scientists, inside and outside EMBL, to better meet the big data challenge.

While the scheduled ESA representative was not able to make it to the event, both Jones and Lueck provided a sense of the challenges and difficulties involved in getting multiple commercial service providers to work with each other; however, from speaking with many of the project participants, one message stands out, which is the strong willingness among all of the participants to work together to find solutions. Consensus-building is key: enabling communication in the form of regular meetings and feedback loops is essential to a project of this scope.

NEXT: Vendor Insight

The vendor panel brought the event’s platinum sponsors to the stage: Intel’s Stephan Gillich and Hewlett Packard’s Frank Baetke were part of a session titled “Providing Demand-based Compute Resources for Small and Medium Enterprises.” First up was Stephan Gillich, director HPC and Workstation EMEA at Intel, to discuss the role of HPC cloud in enabling access in giving users a “super workstation.” Gillich presented Intel’s open-cloud vision and focused on the importance of security and the need for standards. He made the point that customers want a hybrid service with easy-to-compare services that are well described. SMEs are ready to make the jump, said Gillich, but it’s important as a vendor to work with technology in close partnership with the community.

Dr.-Ing. Frank Baetke, Global HPC Programs at Hewlett Packard continued the SME thread. Key to his talk was a discussion of the Wheeling announcement, a comprehensive high school located in a suburb of Chicago with a strong science focus on STEM subjects. As was proved by an audience show-of-hands, STEM, as the initialism for Science, Technology, Education and Math, is a term that is not very well-known outside the US. Awareness of terminology aside, the lack of suitably-trained workers to fill current and coming technical jobs is a concern shared by economic regions all over the world, and Europe is not immune to this problem.

Dr. Baetke then shared the kinds of solutions that HP is providing to enable this SME push, including HP Insight CMY 7.0 and their Converged Cloud infrustructure that was announced earlier this year. He says HP is also very serious about security and is helping to create a “virtual Fort Knox in the cloud” as part of a German project that is in development right now.

In the later afternoon sessions, as part of Industrial Cloud Best Practices, Chris Porter from IBM-Platform, Tom-Michael Thamm with NVIDIA, Rolf Sperber of Alcatel-Lucent, Addison Snell of Intersect360 Research, and Volker Eyrich of Schrödinger Inc. delivered in-depth presentations on a range of industrial use cases that sit at the intersection of HPC and cloud. They shared some lessons learned and presented findings that point the way forward for compute- and data-intensive applications.

The analyst in the group, Addison Snell, injected some high-level perspective into the discussion, starting with an overview of HPC, cloud and big data. He shared a point often made by the firm’s co-founder Chris Willard that once you solve something it’s no longer interesting, however, not to worry HPCers, there will always be bigger problems to solve. In enterprise, though, there’s a different mindset, in that once you’ve solved something, “for god’s sake, don’t touch it!” So you have that fast adoption versus slow adoption dichotomy. The big in big data is like the high in high performance computing – i.e., a relative term that can best be defined in terms of trends.

Snell remarked on a special big data report that came out of a partnership between Intersect360 and Dan Olds of Gabriel Consulting Group. Among the findings were three salient top-level conclusions: One: big data is much broader than Hadoop. Two: A huge amount of money is being spent now, often 25 percent of the annual IT budget (among self-selected interested users). And three (and most importantly according to Snell): Performance matters; even enterprise users are buying based on performance.

Snell noted that when it comes to requirements, “the non-HPC enterprise respondents had very similar maps to the HPC respondents in terms of how they’re evaluating big data problems.”

“Big data is pushing a category of enterprise users into a particular type of very HPC-like evaluation because the whole point of it is ‘I’m suffering from a big data problem because my infrastructure isn’t scaling or performing relative to the data,’ so there’s … this performance mentality…looking at things like dev-ops as well as RAS and those things that are already typical to the enterprise space,” he adds.

NEXT: HPC Cloud Challenges

A panel on HPC cloud challenges concluded the formal day one program set. As outlined in the program, the session covered a long list of “potential obstacles to cloud adoption, such as security and trust, compliance, outsourcing, performance, virtualization, pricing, payment model, software licenses, choice of service provider or private cloud builder, network bandwidth, and integration of all of this into the existing business or research processes.”

Led by panel chair Fritz Ferstl of Univa, this was another quality session with well-respected speakers covering a range of important topics, including:

  • Max Lemke, EU: Cloud Challenges for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)
  • Franz-Josef Pfreundt, Fraunhofer ITWM: Big Data and Cloud File Systems
  • Wolfgang Ziegler, Fraunhofer SCAI: License Management
  • Giles Hogben, CSA: The Cloud Security Alliance
  • Paolo Balboni, European Privacy Association/ICT Legal Consulting: Legal Aspects in Cloud Computing

Judging by the audience participation in the Q&A period, the legal aspects of cloud were particularly engaging, and on this topic, Paolo Balboni imparted several pearls of wisdom. He started out talking about the difficulty of data security in the EU that comes from having to satisfy the distinct data privacy requirements of so many separate parties. While the law is slow-moving, the user just wants to get their work done, and to be competitive they need to move fast. If running an online business, there is no such thing as 100 percent compliance, Balboni stressed – so it all comes down to mitigating risk.

Despite what amounts to a near-impossible mandate, disincentives can be severe. In the EU, data protection sanctions can be up to 2 percent of the worldwide revenue of the company. How can this situation be sustainable as business is moving to reduced implementation times and quicker time to market, and so on? This explains why the market is coming together on this – on data protection. There are initiatives set to launch around privacy-level agreements – PLAs – which like SLA set a basic level of service.

One last important point that Balboni made in response to an audience question is that the EU laws do not necessarily offer more data privacy in comparison to the US. Efforts around making the EU look like a safer alternative to US laws like the Patriot Act are “not really true,” says Balboni, “they’re more about marketing.” A paper from the lawyer covering this subject will be forthcoming.

While the HPC cloud challenges panel concluded the first day’s official program, the participants took their discussions offline to a lovely planned outing at the beautiful German winery of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf. There, attendees were treated to a wine tasting – with a number of fine Rieslings and even a neuer wein (new wine) – and dinner by candlelight, complete with German favorites like Pfälzer Saumagen.

Stay tuned for additional coverage of ISC Cloud 2012, including the crowd-pleasing day-two finale, the vendor-showdown panel. The game-show format is employed to showcase vendor solutions in an entertaining departure from the usual ho-hum vendor slide deck presentations (slides were limited to two per vendor). The two competing teams were well-matched and a winner was not determined until the very last question.

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