SGI launches on demand HPC computing

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SGI logoSGI today announced that they are joining the scrum with companies like Penguin (Penguin on Demand) and NewServers (we’ve talked about their “Bare Metal Cloud”) to offer a computing on demand solution aimed specifically at the HPC market.

Like its competitors in the space SGI is offering non-virtualized (single tenancy) compute, something that addresses the number one gripe of HPC people when you bring up the idea of cloud computing to them: the overhead that virtualization brings. You can buy on a core basis, though, so if you aren’t buying a socket multiple of cores you may end of sharing system resources (memory bandwidth) with someone’s else application. Unlike Penguin and NewServers, though, SGI has gone the extra mile and made common applications in some key computational domains available.

With Cyclone’s SaaS (Software as a Service) model, SGI delivers access to leading-edge open source applications and best-of-breed commercial software platforms from top Independent Software Vendors (ISVs). Supported applications include: OpenFOAM, NUMECA, Acusolve, LS-Dyna, Gaussian, Gamess, NAMD, Gromacs, LAMMPS, BLAST, FASTA, HMMER, ClustalW and OntoStudio. SGI expects to add additional domains and applications partners over time.

Users aren’t limited to the pre-loaded apps, though: you can add your own. If you do, though, you are presumably on your own when it comes to licensing (unless you own the code).

The hardware available to users covers SGI’s offerings, which extends this from a standalone business to an extension of hardware sales efforts: users can now try and buy much more easily than getting loaner hardware or finding a pal with a few cycles to spare on a new machine.

The SGI technology at Cyclone’s core is comprised of some of the world’s fastest supercomputing hardware architectures, including SGI Altix scale-up, Altix ICE scale-out and Altix XE hybrid clusters, all based on Intel Xeon or Itanium processors. The hybrid architecture offers either NVIDIA Tesla GPUs or AMD FireStream GPU compute accelerators for floating point double precision workloads, and Tilera accelerators for integer workloads. High performance SGI InfiniteStorage systems are available for scratch space and long-term archival of customer data.

The Tilera inclusion is interesting, though it is only offered on the Altix XE servers. The operating environment is standard stuff, although Windows is conspicuously absent from the offering and makes Cyclone a product that will most likely be of interest mostly to traditional scientific HPC users.

At the system software level, Cyclone offers a flexible computing environment with the choice of Novell SUSE or Red Hat Linux operating systems, further performance-optimized through the addition of SGI ProPack. Altair PBS Professional and SGI ISLE Cluster Manager provide system scheduling and management.

According to Timothy Prickett Morgan, you can get data in (and presumably out) either by ftp’ing it over, or sending it to SGI on drives that they’ll load onto the storage system for you. Storage costs $0.20/GB/month, higher than Amazon’s initiail $0.15/GB/month (Amazon pricing is tiered and goes down as you store more data).

So what does it cost? At $0.95 per core hour, it is more than Amazon’s high end pricing, which is $0.80/core-hr. It is also more than Penguin and NewServers. Is it worth it? The difference isn’t huge, and if you are a user of one of the apps that come pre-loaded, the convenience might make the difference to you. If you are rolling your own code, though, I would suspect that $0.15/core-hr is enough that you’d head for one of the other offerings, since you are going to have to do all the lifting to get the code installed and working anyway. Something else to keep in mind is that Penguin specifically positioned their offering at launch as a “high touch” service, offering at least the hope that you could pay less money and work with someone who expected to help you get going.

You can read more in the release, or find out more at the Cyclone web site.


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