Historically, the high-performance computing (HPC) sector has been dominated by leading academic institutions and top research groups or consultancies.
Until recently, the market was largely restricted to organisations such as these, which could either attract European funding for specific programmes or activities, or obtain access to large IT budgets for one-off projects, and which would be unlikely to have a cost-focused business case to worry about.
Typically, such organisations would need to buy complex, powerful IT systems that would incur significant implementation and maintenance costs, and which would need regular updates and refreshes to accommodate technological innovation.
Fortunately, a completely new approach is coming, which is set to radically transform the HPC market and open it up to a much broader spectrum of organisational types. The new methodology, known as HPC-on-Demand, typically involves the solutions provider investing in infrastructure that gives prospective users the opportunity to buy access to that computing resource rather than having to make an upfront investment in a complex IT hardware implementation.
One of the great benefits is that users pay for a defined period of time. So, if a business is working on a three-month project and just requires IT capability during that period, then it only has to pay for what it uses. It does not have to have infrastructure idle for a long period, which is effectively a waste of investment.
More than the public cloud
HPC-on-Demand must never be confused with other general-purpose cloud or on-demand services. Unlike commercial clouds, HPC-on-Demand services address the requirements of HPC customers by providing on-demand remote compute facilities access with a pre-installed and configured environment, where independent software vendor (ISV) applications and open source codes are installed and available.
HPC-on-Demand services are typically targeted at users with complex modelling and simulation needs. Public cloud resources designed in a more one-size-fits-all fashion simply cannot match the requirements of these types of user.
HPC-on-Demand is likely to appeal particularly to large organisations that already have their own computing resources and are looking for additional processing power to deal with peaks in workload, so they can respond to their immediate requirements for innovation.
It is also likely to be attractive to SMEs and design offices that have basic computing resources but cannot invest further in these resources and would rather seize the opportunity to outsource hardware and technical support so they can concentrate their own resources on their core business.
In addition, it has potential benefits for creative media studios that need computing resources to create high-definition and 3D special effects, and convert different video formats.
Freed from the shackles of technology, organisations now have complete freedom to innovate: with HPC-on-Demand, they have no need for physical infrastructures and no more maintenance requirements, while still having access to high-performance tools for innovation.
Andrew Carr, director of sales and marketing, Bull UK and Ireland