OCF Supersizes HPC Service

By Tiffany Trader

October 16, 2012

UK-based HPC systems integrator OCF plc just significantly expanded its pay-as-you-go supercomputing service, enCORE. The on-demand system first launched in late 2010 to bring additional computing capacity to the UK’s small-to-medium-sized business community. What started out as a small pilot project has developed into a full-fledged, 8,000-core HPC service.

Lola Cars

Using enCORE – racecar CFD simulation superimposed onto real Le Mans image: Picture courtesy of Lola Cars

Jerry Dixon, the HPC on Demand business development manager at OCF, joined the company just before the initial deployment. He recalls that at the time, the company was aware of the huge potential for a service of this kind, but did not have the capacity required to launch such an undertaking – at least not by themselves. However, via a partnership with the Science and Technology Facilities Council, a UK research council operation, the OCF came to an exclusive arrangement to sell the excess capacity of the Daresbury Laboratory’s IBM iDataplex cluster on essentially a revenue share basis.

The initial cluster was quite small, even by 2010 standards: a 2.5 teraflop System x iDataPlex server cluster. The OCF had a service-level agreement that allowed it to use half of the cycles. Since then, the OCF has been running essentially a pilot service, enabling them to fine-tune the service-level agreement and get a better understanding of what customers are looking for. While the focus has been on small-to-medium sized businesses in the UK, there are also a couple overseas customers.

This month, as part of a newly signed agreement between OCF and the Science and Technology Facilities Council’s Hartree Centre, the service is ramping up to 8,000 cores. It draws its power from a new IBM System x iDataPlex cluster named Blue Wonder, which was installed and configured by OCF in partnership with IBM. With 8,192 Intel Xeon E5 processor cores interconnected with FDR InfiniBand and plugged into a high-speed GPFS file system, the machine is capable of 206.3 teraflops (Linpack). Its 48 TB shared memory capacity makes it the largest shared memory cluster in the UK.

Each of the 512 nodes sports Intel SandyBridge 8-core CPUs with either 36Gb or 128Gb RAM. This is true HPC-as-a-Service; the compute nodes are not virtualized. Service users can also access 48 GPU nodes outfitted with NVIDIA Tesla 2090 GPUs.

The cluster operates with Platform HPC tools, so for customers using Platform LSF, it’s easy to switch their compute jobs to a remote cluster. Users who rely on Sun Grid Engine or other scheduling software need a separate account with OCF. Dixon says that job submissions have gone smoothly, but that OCF is still looking to develop different user interfaces to make it easier to use the enCORE service in a more automated way, over the Internet. Customers can use various open source applications available on enCORE, or load their own apps.

With this additional capacity, OCF and enCORE will be able to satisfy the type of requirements of larger organizations in addition to their current customer base of small and mid-size companies. Dixon recounts the meaningful business benefits enabled by the endeavor. Some customers have no HPC infrastructure available to them in-house and in order to run models and simulations successfully they need to access an HPC cluster. Other customers may own HPC resources but from time to time have peaks in demand or challenging project schedules or have workloads that require significantly more capacity than they have access to. Other clients who own systems outright are pushing up against capacity, datacenter and power limitations and use the service as way to minimize the gap.

One success story in particular stands out in Dixon’s mind: a customer that had the opportunity to bid for a contract to perform wind farm simulations, but did not have the necessary computing power necessary to carry out the work. By working with OCF and using the enCORE service, they were able to put in a successful bid and delivered the work on time and on budget.

While enCORE is officially a public-private partnership – the first one of its kind in the UK – from the customer perspective, this is a commercial service. The entire customer engagement, from sales and marketing right through to service delivery is with OCF. So the customer does not have any exposure whatsoever to the partner institutions – all technical support, requirements or requests come in to the OCF service desk.

But this is still a collaboration, and the cluster operates based on service agreements. Dixon characterized the arrangement as a flexible arrangement, with OCF having access to 8,000 of the 8,192 available cores. The distribution of resources toward commercial endeavors is intentional.

The Hartree Center – where the cluster resides – is a collaboration between the STFC, IBM and other partners, including OCF. The center, launched in 2011 with a £37.5 government investment, has a mandate to help UK businesses harness the power of high-performance computing in order to better compete on the global playing field. Dixon explains that historically the Germans and the French have invested significantly more federal dollars into HPC than Britain has and that’s one reason this project is so important.

“The objective of the Hartree Center,” says Dixon, “is to help customers adopt high-performance computing, optimize codes and build applications in a collaborative framework to help them become more innovative.” By using the latest modeling and simulation technologies, vendors can optimize their research and development process and get products to market more quickly.

Running codes on HPC systems is rarely a simple task, and as part of their services, OCF provides access to HPC experts. They help users resolve issues of compiling code and installing modules. “I think that’s an important distinction from users that try to run HPC simulations on public clouds, like Amazon EC2,” says Dixon, “where you wouldn’t get that level or any level of support of that type. We’ve got a number of notes of thanks from our customers for the support we’ve provided which has allowed them to get up and running very quickly.”

In talking with Dixon, one gets the sense that there is quite the ecosystem of users and potential users who have a need for this kind of HPC capacity. “The range of industries that we’ll be supporting is going to expand quite significantly along with the growth of the cluster,” he says.

Current and would-be customers tend to have a mix of engineering and geoscience codes. The list of possible use cases is quite varied and includes semiconductor design, hydrodynamics, modeling high-speed trains (two trains passing in a tunnel), insurance risk modeling based on natural disasters, financial modeling, and more. BHR, Engys, Actiflow, HR Wallingford, Lola Cars and Renuda are just some of their customers.

Dr. David Kelsall, senior consultant at fluid engineering consultancy, BHR Group, shared his thoughts on using the service as a way to increase user confidence in digital tools. BHR group has operated mostly with physical models and under new leadership is increasing its use of computer modeling and simulation technologies. Kelsall points to a customer who, through an outside agency, has done computer modeling for a massive pumping system and now wants to ensure the validity of the results, so they turned to BHR to create a physical model and to help them get a feel for the pros and cons of each approach.

Kelsall sees other companies straddling the physical/digital divide and views the cloud service as a way to obtain the necessary compute capacity without making a huge capital investment. Kelsall admits that it’s often more difficult for SMEs to access HPC technology, but he says “organizations like ours can provide a bridge between what they want and what’s available.”

Keeping data in the UK was also a sticking point for BHR. Kelsall says that a UK-based service provider is helping them meet data privacy mandates.

OCF, a small company of about 26 employees, has established a significant customer base and a solid reputation over the ten yeas its been in business. While based in the UK, OCF is well-known throughout the HPC community. They are an IBM Premier partner, and an accredited IBM Cloud Service provider. Customers find out about OCF via the IBM organization and community networking as well as through more traditional channels like marketing, trade press, and direct sales activities.

The service is charged on a per-core hour basis, and the website lists “a small annual fee of £350.” Users pay for storage above a half a TB. Dixon says the nice thing about the simple charging model is that it makes it easy to budget and control spend. The per-core charge varies depending on the level of usage, so a heavy user will get a discounted price as per economies of scale.

The revamped service is going through some final configuration and testing, but should be up and running within next week or two.

“We expect to see all sorts of workloads,” says Dixon. “Some customers will use it very regularly because they don’t have their own infrastructure and others will go to the other extreme, and use it only sparingly, and everything in between. One user was a heavy user at first and since then, they’ve only used it several times. But this uneven usage is actually good because it opens up the system for other users and the overall demand levels out.”

This brief (under 5 minute) video shares further details about the Science and Technology Facilities Council at Sci-Tech Daresbury, home of Blue Wonder, the workhorse behind the enCORE service.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is stepping down after two years to return to Argonne National L Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blue Ribbon and Harley Davidson motorcycles the agenda addresse Read more…

By Merle Giles

NSF Awards $10M to Extend Chameleon Cloud Testbed Project

September 19, 2017

The National Science Foundation has awarded a second phase, $10 million grant to the Chameleon cloud computing testbed project led by University of Chicago with partners at the Texas Advanced Computing Center (TACC), Ren Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Prepares Customers for Success with the HPC Software Portfolio

High performance computing (HPC) software is key to harnessing the full power of HPC environments. Development and management tools enable IT departments to streamline installation and maintenance of their systems as well as create, optimize, and run their HPC applications. Read more…

NERSC Simulations Shed Light on Fusion Reaction Turbulence

September 19, 2017

Understanding fusion reactions in detail – particularly plasma turbulence – is critical to the effort to bring fusion power to reality. Recent work including roughly 70 million hours of compute time at the National E Read more…

Exascale Computing Project Names Doug Kothe as Director

September 20, 2017

The Department of Energy’s Exascale Computing Project (ECP) has named Doug Kothe as its new director effective October 1. He replaces Paul Messina, who is s Read more…

Takeaways from the Milwaukee HPC User Forum

September 19, 2017

Milwaukee’s elegant Pfister Hotel hosted approximately 100 attendees for the 66th HPC User Forum (September 5-7, 2017). In the original home city of Pabst Blu Read more…

By Merle Giles

Kathy Yelick Charts the Promise and Progress of Exascale Science

September 15, 2017

On Friday, Sept. 8, Kathy Yelick of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the University of California, Berkeley, delivered the keynote address on “Breakt Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DARPA Pledges Another $300 Million for Post-Moore’s Readiness

September 14, 2017

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) launched a giant funding effort to ensure the United States can sustain the pace of electronic innovation vital to both a flourishing economy and a secure military. Under the banner of the Electronics Resurgence Initiative (ERI), some $500-$800 million will be invested in post-Moore’s Law technologies. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Breaks Ground for Complex Quantum Chemistry

September 14, 2017

IBM has reported the use of a novel algorithm to simulate BeH2 (beryllium-hydride) on a quantum computer. This is the largest molecule so far simulated on a quantum computer. The technique, which used six qubits of a seven-qubit system, is an important step forward and may suggest an approach to simulating ever larger molecules. Read more…

By John Russell

Cubes, Culture, and a New Challenge: Trish Damkroger Talks about Life at Intel—and Why HPC Matters More Than Ever

September 13, 2017

Trish Damkroger wasn’t looking to change jobs when she attended SC15 in Austin, Texas. Capping a 15-year career within Department of Energy (DOE) laboratories, she was acting Associate Director for Computation at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). Her mission was to equip the lab’s scientists and research partners with resources that would advance their cutting-edge work... Read more…

By Jan Rowell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

MIT-IBM Watson AI Lab Targets Algorithms, AI Physics

September 7, 2017

Investment continues to flow into artificial intelligence research, especially in key areas such as AI algorithms that promise to move the technology from speci Read more…

By George Leopold

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This