Why supercomputers will live only in the cloud

With rise of supercomputing and high-end platforms in public clouds, the day will come when you can't get them any other way

The new public beta of Cluster Compute Eight Extra Large is Amazon.com's most powerful cloud service yet. Its launch indicates that Amazon Web Services (AWS) intends to attract more organizations into high-performance computing. "AWS's cloud for high-performance computing applications offers the same benefits as it does for other applications: It eliminates the cost and complexity of buying, configuring, and operating in-house compute clusters, according to Amazon," notes the IDG News Service story. The applications include physics simulations, seismic analysis, drug design, genome analysis, aircraft design, and similar CPU-intensive analytics applications

This is a core advantage of cloud computing: the ability to access very expensive computing systems using a self-provisioned and time-shared model. Most organizations can't afford supercomputers, so they choose a rental arrangement. This is not unlike how I had to consume supercomputing services back when I was in college. Certainly the college could not afford a Cray.

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The question then arises: What happens these advanced computing services move away from the on-premise hardware and software model completely? What if they instead choose to provide multitenant access to supercomputing services and hide the high-end MIPS behind a cloud API?

This model may offer a more practical means of providing these services, and supercomputers are not the only platform where this shft may occur. Other more obscure platforms and application could be a contender for the cloud-only model, such as huge database services bound to high-end analytics, geo-analytics, any platform that deals with massive image processing, and other platforms and applications that share the same patterns.

I believe that those who vend these computing systems and sell about 20 to 30 a year will find that the cloud becomes a new and more lucrative channel. Perhaps they will support thousands of users on the cloud, an audience that would typically not be able to afford the hardware and software.

Moreover, I believe this might be the only model they support in the future, and the cloud could be the only way to access some platform services. That's a pity for those who want to see the hardware in their own data center, but perhaps that's not a bad thing.

This article, "Why supercomputers will live only in the cloud," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of David Linthicum's Cloud Computing blog and track the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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