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Cloud Computing Opportunities in HPC

by Addison Snell, Christopher G. Willard, Ph.D., Laura Segervall
for Intersect360 Research
December 2009

Cloud computing is a new instantiation of distributed computing. It is built on grid computing concepts and technology and further enabled by internet technologies for access. Cloud computing is the delivery of some part of an IT workflow – such as computational cycles, data storage, or application hosting – using an internet-style interface. This definition includes organizational intranets with web browser interfaces for accessing private clouds.

Cloud computing is currently driven by business models that attempt to utilize or monetize unused resources. Grid, virtualization, and now cloud technologies have attempted to find and tap idle resources, thus reducing costs or generating revenue. The most interesting difference between cloud computing and earlier forms of distributed computing is that in developing ultra-scale computing centers, organizations such as Google and Amazon incidentally built out significant caches of occasionally idle computing resources that could be made generally available through the internet. Furthermore these organizations found that they had developed significant skills in constructing and managing these resources, and economies of scale allowed them to purchase incremental equipment at relatively lower prices. The cloud was born as an effort to monetize those skills, economic advantages, and excess capacity.

This is important because from a business model point of view the cloud resources came into existences at no cost, and have minimal incremental support requirements. The majority of the costs are born by the core businesses, and therefore, at least initially, customers of the excess capacity do not need to foot the bill for capital expenditures. Costs associated with staff training, facilities, and development are similarly already fully amortized and absorbed by the parent businesses. There is little that is more appealing than selling something that you get for free.

With such an appealing proposition in play, many other organizations are scrambling to see whether they have an infrastructure – public or private – that can be exploited for gain through cloud computing. However, when significant excess capacity does not exist, or if it cannot be leveraged in a timely or reliable fashion, it is not clear what sustainable business models exist for cloud computing.

High-end, public cloud computing offerings represent a convergence of grid and internet technologies, potentially enabling workable new business models. Smaller, private clouds are a technical evolution that expands the ease of use and deployment of grids within organizations.

As cloud computing technologies mature, Intersect360 Research sees several possible business models that could evolve. Although we emphasize High Performance Computing in our analysis, cloud computing transcends HPC, and similar models will exist in non-HPC markets.



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