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!

IBM, CQC Intro Cloud-based Quantum Random Number Generation

September 21, 2020

IBM and Cambridge Quantum Computing (CQC) have partnered to achieve progress on one of the major business aspirations for quantum computing – the goal of generating verified, truly random numbers that can be used for a Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss

European Commission Declares €8 Billion Investment in Supercomputing

September 18, 2020

Just under two years ago, the European Commission formalized the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU): a concerted HPC effort (comprising 32 participating states at current count) across the European Union and supplanting HPC Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Google Hires Longtime Intel Exec Bill Magro to Lead HPC Strategy

September 18, 2020

In a sign of the times, another prominent HPCer has made a move to a hyperscaler. Longtime Intel executive Bill Magro joined Google as chief technologist for high-performance computing, a newly created position that is a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Swiss Supercomputer Enables Ultra-Precise Climate Simulations

September 17, 2020

As smoke from the record-breaking West Coast wildfires pours across the globe and tropical storms continue to form at unprecedented rates, the state of the global climate is once again looming in the public eye. Owing to Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Future of Fintech on Display at HPC + AI Wall Street

September 17, 2020

Those who tuned in for Tuesday's HPC + AI Wall Street event got a peak at the future of fintech and lively discussion of topics like blockchain, AI for risk management, and high-frequency trading, as told by a group of l Read more…

By Alex Woodie,Tiffany Trader and Todd R. Weiss

AWS Solution Channel

Next-generation aerospace modeling and simulation: benchmarking Amazon Web Services High Performance Computing services

The aerospace industry has been using Computational Fluid Dynamics (CFD) for decades to create and optimize designs digitally, from the largest passenger planes and fighter jets to gliders and drones. Read more…

Intel® HPC + AI Pavilion

Berlin Institute of Health: Putting HPC to Work for the World

Researchers from the Center for Digital Health at the Berlin Institute of Health (BIH) are using science to understand the pathophysiology of COVID-19, which can help to inform the development of targeted treatments. Read more…

Legacy HPC System Seeds Supercomputing Excellence at UT Dallas

September 16, 2020

What happens to supercomputers after their productive life at an academic research center ends? The question often arises when people hear that the average age of a top supercomputer at retirement is about five years. Rest assured — systems aren’t simply scrapped. Instead, they’re donated to organizations and institutions that can make... Read more…

By Aaron Dubrow

European Commission Declares €8 Billion Investment in Supercomputing

September 18, 2020

Just under two years ago, the European Commission formalized the EuroHPC Joint Undertaking (JU): a concerted HPC effort (comprising 32 participating states at c Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Google Hires Longtime Intel Exec Bill Magro to Lead HPC Strategy

September 18, 2020

In a sign of the times, another prominent HPCer has made a move to a hyperscaler. Longtime Intel executive Bill Magro joined Google as chief technologist for hi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Future of Fintech on Display at HPC + AI Wall Street

September 17, 2020

Those who tuned in for Tuesday's HPC + AI Wall Street event got a peak at the future of fintech and lively discussion of topics like blockchain, AI for risk man Read more…

By Alex Woodie,Tiffany Trader and Todd R. Weiss

IBM’s Quantum Race to One Million Qubits

September 15, 2020

IBM today outlined its ambitious quantum computing technology roadmap at its virtual Quantum Summit. The eye-popping million qubit number is still far out, agrees IBM, but perhaps not that far out. Just as eye-popping is IBM’s nearer-term plan for a 1,000-plus qubit system named Condor... Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Commits to Buy Arm for $40B

September 14, 2020

Nvidia is acquiring semiconductor design company Arm Ltd. for $40 billion from SoftBank in a blockbuster deal that catapults the GPU chipmaker to a dominant position in the datacenter while helping troubled SoftBank reverse its financial woes. The deal, which has been rumored for... Read more…

By Todd R. Weiss and George Leopold

AMD’s Massive COVID-19 HPC Fund Adds 18 Institutions, 5 Petaflops of Power

September 14, 2020

Almost exactly five months ago, AMD announced its COVID-19 HPC Fund, an ongoing flow of resources and equipment to research institutions studying COVID-19 that began with an initial donation of $15 million. In June, AMD announced major equipment donations to several major institutions. Now, AMD is making its third major COVID-19 HPC Fund... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

HPC Strategist Dave Turek Joins DNA Storage (and Computing) Company Catalog

September 11, 2020

You've heard the saying "flash is the new disk and disk is the new tape," which traces its origins back to Jim Gray*. But what if DNA-based data storage could o Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google’s Quantum Chemistry Simulation Suggests Promising Path Forward

September 9, 2020

A much-anticipated prize in quantum computing is the ability to more accurately model chemical bonding behavior. Doing so should lead to better chemical synthes Read more…

By John Russell

Supercomputer-Powered Research Uncovers Signs of ‘Bradykinin Storm’ That May Explain COVID-19 Symptoms

July 28, 2020

Doctors and medical researchers have struggled to pinpoint – let alone explain – the deluge of symptoms induced by COVID-19 infections in patients, and what Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Nvidia Said to Be Close on Arm Deal

August 3, 2020

GPU leader Nvidia Corp. is in talks to buy U.K. chip designer Arm from parent company Softbank, according to several reports over the weekend. If consummated Read more…

By George Leopold

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

By Doug Black

Intel’s 7nm Slip Raises Questions About Ponte Vecchio GPU, Aurora Supercomputer

July 30, 2020

During its second-quarter earnings call, Intel announced a one-year delay of its 7nm process technology, which it says it will create an approximate six-month shift for its CPU product timing relative to prior expectations. The primary issue is a defect mode in the 7nm process that resulted in yield degradation... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPE Keeps Cray Brand Promise, Reveals HPE Cray Supercomputing Line

August 4, 2020

The HPC community, ever-affectionate toward Cray and its eponymous founder, can breathe a (virtual) sigh of relief. The Cray brand will live on, encompassing th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Supercomputer Simulations Reveal the Fate of the Neanderthals

May 25, 2020

For hundreds of thousands of years, neanderthals roamed the planet, eventually (almost 50,000 years ago) giving way to homo sapiens, which quickly became the do Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Neocortex Will Be First-of-Its-Kind 800,000-Core AI Supercomputer

June 9, 2020

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center (PSC - a joint research organization of Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh) has won a $5 million award Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Hires Longtime Intel Exec Bill Magro to Lead HPC Strategy

September 18, 2020

In a sign of the times, another prominent HPCer has made a move to a hyperscaler. Longtime Intel executive Bill Magro joined Google as chief technologist for hi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Supercomputer Modeling Tests How COVID-19 Spreads in Grocery Stores

April 8, 2020

In the COVID-19 era, many people are treating simple activities like getting gas or groceries with caution as they try to heed social distancing mandates and protect their own health. Still, significant uncertainty surrounds the relative risk of different activities, and conflicting information is prevalent. A team of Finnish researchers set out to address some of these uncertainties by... Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Australian Researchers Break All-Time Internet Speed Record

May 26, 2020

If you’ve been stuck at home for the last few months, you’ve probably become more attuned to the quality (or lack thereof) of your internet connection. Even Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Oracle Cloud Infrastructure Powers Fugaku’s Storage, Scores IO500 Win

August 28, 2020

In June, RIKEN shook the supercomputing world with its Arm-based, Fujitsu-built juggernaut: Fugaku. The system, which weighs in at 415.5 Linpack petaflops, topp Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Google Cloud Debuts 16-GPU Ampere A100 Instances

July 7, 2020

On the heels of the Nvidia’s Ampere A100 GPU launch in May, Google Cloud is announcing alpha availability of the A100 “Accelerator Optimized” VM A2 instance family on Google Compute Engine. The instances are powered by the HGX A100 16-GPU platform, which combines two HGX A100 8-GPU baseboards using... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

DOD Orders Two AI-Focused Supercomputers from Liqid

August 24, 2020

The U.S. Department of Defense is making a big investment in data analytics and AI computing with the procurement of two HPC systems that will provide the High Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Joliot-Curie Supercomputer Used to Build First Full, High-Fidelity Aircraft Engine Simulation

July 14, 2020

When industrial designers plan the design of a new element of a vehicle’s propulsion or exterior, they typically use fluid dynamics to optimize airflow and in Read more…

By Oliver Peckham

Microsoft Azure Adds A100 GPU Instances for ‘Supercomputer-Class AI’ in the Cloud

August 19, 2020

Microsoft Azure continues to infuse its cloud platform with HPC- and AI-directed technologies. Today the cloud services purveyor announced a new virtual machine Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan’s Fugaku Tops Global Supercomputing Rankings

June 22, 2020

A new Top500 champ was unveiled today. Supercomputer Fugaku, the pride of Japan and the namesake of Mount Fuji, vaulted to the top of the 55th edition of the To Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!
Share This