Cloudy with a Chance of HPC

The traditional barriers to high performance computing (HPC) — the kind of computing you need for, say, sequencing the human genome or modelling complex weather systems — have fallen. We can now accomplish tasks that previously required expensive, specialized supercomputers by using the combined power of many relatively inexpensive PC-based servers.

Harnessing the cloud for HPC: A man stands in front of a rack of servers with the sky behind him

This entails parsing the task in to a set of subtasks that you distribute across the various servers so that the servers can work on all the subtasks simultaneously. But even though we no longer have to measure the cost of massive computational horsepower in millions of dollars, investing in and building out the servers and infrastructure required for HPC still requires significant planning and cost-benefit analysis.

Here is where the cloud does for HPC what it does across the technology landscape: alter the affordability equation. The fundamentally elastic nature of the cloud gives it the potential to perform a variety tasks on demand, and among those is high performance computing. We say ‘potential’ because harnessing the cloud for HPC is not simply a matter of spinning up a set of virtual servers; you must still have expertise in HPC to configure and connect the virtual resources. Nevertheless, some analyses conclude that consumption of HPC on demand is more cost-effective than building an HPC capability yourself. So the question is, does cloud-based HPC deliver?

In short, yes. A recent Gartner report described the “quantum shift” that technologies such as cloud-based HPC will have on the Oil and Gas industry. More broadly, Intersect360 Research forecasts that the percent of overall HPC sales that was cloud-based in 2009 will slightly more than double by 2018. And this growth is becoming increasingly rapid, with organizations using cloud-based HPC to perform tasks in a day that used to involve months processing mountains of data.

At Dell, we recognize that the specialized nature of cloud-based HPC requires specialized expertise. In keeping with our strategy of engaging with best-of-breed providers within our global cloud ecosystem, we work with partners such as R Systems to deliver cloud-based high performance computing to our customers. As the cloud continues to evolve, Dell will continue to harness the cloud to enable the innovations you have come to expect.

About the Author: Sam Romero