SC ’11: Is the Cloud Ready for High Performance Computing?
I’m back in San Francisco after a few days in Seattle for the SC ’11 high-performance computing (HPC) and supercomputing conference. As you may expect from a show dedicated to huge computing clusters and scientific research, channel perspectives were extremely limited, and that goes double when it comes to the cloud. All the same, that doesn’t mean I didn’t come away with some thoughts.
Obviously, bandwidth is a major concern when it comes to HPC: it’s difficult — though not impossible — to deliver the performance necessary for the kinds of computations research facilities need from a remote data center. And even if you could, supercomputing is a highly specialized field with highly specialized needs and, sometimes, highly restrictive budgets.
This is just something I overheard at the conference, so don’t take it as gospel, but I’m hearing that only about 3 percent of all high-performance computing is done in the cloud, and that number isn’t expected to move one way or the other anytime soon. That said, Microsoft was there promoting its HPC in Azure cloud offering, Peer1 Hosting was promoting its graphics-rendering cloud, and I’m sure there were a few other vendors on the admittedly massive show floor that had cloud solutions on display.
Of those cloud vendors, though, the only one I know that made any announcements was Amazon Web Services, which opened a public beta for a new Amazon EC2 Cluster Compute instance size that brings supercomputing-class performance to its cloud services. Moreover, I also hear through the grapevine that Amazon Web Services is now using Intel Xeon E5 Sandy Bridge processors at the core of the EC2 cloud infrastructure.
In short: If I came away with any impressions at all from SC ’11, it’s that HPC in the cloud is still kind of a pipe dream for many. But I know there are some traditional resellers and systems integrators who have been working to build supercomputers for laboratories and design labs — I’m wondering if there are any cloud services providers that have some experience in the cloud HPC market.
And in the meanwhile, you can read a little bit more about my SC ’11 experiences over at TalkinCloud sister site The VAR Guy.