Report Shows HPC Spending ‘Solid and Stable’

By Tiffany Trader

July 6, 2015

The staff at Intersect360 Research have published their seventh Site Budget Allocation Map, peeling back the curtains on HPC site spending across industry, government and academic sites to suss out important trends. Overall this was a strong year characterized by fairly stable spending across the major categories (hardware, software, etc.) with 59 percent of all sites anticipating further growth over the next two years.

This histogram of the past five surveys illustrates trends in spending across the seven top-level categories: hardware, software, facilities, staffing, services, cloud/utility/outsourcing computing, and other. The sampled community spans both small HPC and large supercomputing sites with the most common budget sizes falling into the tiers “greater than $2 million” and “$100,000 to $499,999.”

Intersect360 HPC Budget June 2015 table1

Most noticeably, hardware and staffing categories have leveled out after some periods of incline and decline respectively. For the last three years, spending on hardware has averaged about 45 percent, while budget allocated to staffing has stayed in the 21-22 percent range. In fact, this stability persists across all the top-level categories, leading the authors to characterize the 2014 survey patterns as “solid and stable.”

“With regards to hardware, I think the big thing you are seeing is that in the earlier years, we were still seeing some recessionary levels of spending where capital expenditures were constrained and the hardware portion of the budget was down in the high 30th percentile then after that it rebounded up to the low-to-mid 40s where it’s been the last three surveys. And I think that’s going to be a more normal place to see that as a percent of budget,” said Intersect360 CEO Addison Snell in a conversation with HPCwire.

“Staffing would have been higher in those recession years because you cut your external spending faster than you cut people. You try to preserve people’s jobs and therefore it becomes a higher proportion of your budget,” he continued.

Intersect360 HPC Budget June 2015 fig4

Snell observes there may be another reason that staffing numbers are healthy and it relates to a dominant trend in software: open source.

“With the increased architectural complexity, I might have thought that software spending would go up as you got into more complicated or more expensive licensing schemes,” he said. “But what we really saw was that the industry got ahead of that trend by moving the mix of software away from commercial ISV packages and bringing more open source into the mix. Both of those drivers will also have the affect of bolstering your staffing because if you are doing more in-house software development, then that implies staff who are doing that.”

Moving the needle on HPC in the cloud

When it comes to the cloud computing category, Snell said that despite persistent high interest, cloud has so far failed to get a real foothold in HPC, hovering around 3 percent of total spend with public cloud eating a 1 percent share of the total HPC budget pie. As for users who are spending a non-zero amount on cloud, the number has risen to about one-third of HPC users, but these are most test clouds, burst scenarios and small production environments.

HPC in the cloud, especially production-level commercial cloud, has been slow to blossom beyond the bursting model or beyond the new user and this just doesn’t represent a large share of overall budget, but 2015 may be the year that changes – to a point.

“While there hasn’t been a spike yet in real cloud spending,” said Snell, “there are signs of growth ahead, coming primarily from academia and pharmaceuticals. But even then you are talking about some users moving up to, say, 20 percent of their spend in the cloud, at the very high end. I don’t see cloud getting up to 10 percent of the market very soon.”

“It comes down to economics for a lot of users,” he continued. “The general assumption that it’s cheaper to do in the cloud, I think, does not apply across the majority of the HPC landscape. Most established HPC users of at least moderate scale tend to believe that they can do things just as cheaply or cheaper in-house than they could if the paid somebody else to do the same workload. So the question becomes where does that no longer apply where people feel like they can run things more economically in the cloud, and that gets into academia, some pharmaceuticals and some government.”

Other major takeaways (reprinted from the report):

• Hardware represents the largest overall budget item, accounting for 45% of the total HPC budget in 2014. Servers, followed by storage, continue to lead spending within the hardware segment. When asked for future budget trends, hardware is the primary driving force behind budget change. About 50% of sites that provided qualitative input on budget trends reported a change in hardware spending as their reason. About two-thirds expect hardware spending to increase, and one-third expect a decrease.

• Staffing continues to be the second-largest overall expense, accounting for 22% of sites. Average spending on staffing has stabilized over the last three surveys, after a few years of declining share. System management and operations, followed by application programmers, and user support and services, are the top three categories within staffing and account for 71% of the staffing budget.

• Software as a share of the overall HPC budget accounts for 13% of that budget. System software and software tools represent the largest share of expenditures within software, accounting for a combined share of 47% of the HPC software budget.

• Cloud/Utility/Outsourcing computing is still a very small percentage of overall HPC expenditures, with about 3% share. We have seen fluctuations year-to-year in spending on cloud computing but no consistent or significant movement either upwards or downwards.

• Budgets are expected to increase by 1% or more for 59% of all respondents, and 43% expect budgets to increase by more than 5%. Commercial sites showed the most optimism with 78% expecting budgets to increase by at least 1% and 66% expecting budgets to increase by at least 5%. About 19% of academic sites are expecting a decline in their budgets, which is a higher percentage than either commercial or government sites.

The full report is available to Intersect360 clients and can be linked from the executive summary.

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