Supercomputing as a Service: meet Eka

In this article, the author covers some of what CRL is doing with Eka (pronounced eh-kch).

There are some interesting points:

CRL???s initiative is a pioneering effort, as it is the first time that a corporate institution is taking the lead in extending the domain of High Performance Computing (HPC) from the academic field, to the enterprise. This is partly because a large-scale supercomputing infrastructure has been typically owned by government institutions, and is not largely used to its full potential. Being research focused, these institutions have little inclination or capability to deliver it as a utility service.

Not sure I agree that it is the first time a corporate institution is doing this … others have been there before, and some are continuing, such as Tsunamic Technologies.

This said, the other point is very much on target.

Most of the governmental backed/based HPC providers are doing so, specifically to further their research. And there is nothing wrong with this.

All this means is that some of the decisions being made, aren’t being made with a bottom line or customer focus in mind. That is, they are not trying to minimize the cost per FLOP or GB/s. But CRL has to, as it is a business.

This leads to very different HPC systems designs. And very different charge back models. To break even, you need the money coming in to completely offset the money going out. So, while buying capital equipment and hosting it may work well for various groups, for others it is harder.

CRL has succeeded because few organizations today have the financial bandwidth to afford a supercomputer; or because they are unwilling to invest and pay for the administration costs of maintaining a supercomputer. In this scenario, the concept of offering computing power as a service, has struck the right chord, as clients are happy to do this on a need basis at costs they can afford.

Basically to break even, CRL simply has to make sure the utilization is high, and the cost per unit time used is comparable to what people might pay to host locally. They win then.

The trick in this business model is simply level of utilization.

But they are approaching it quite sensibly, and have multiple business models for selling the resource

To encourage more enterprises to start using the supercomputers on rent, CRL is offering the services through three options: a pay-per-use model, a fixed capacity model, and through turnkey based customized solutions. Krishna envisages percolating the concept of supercomputers on rent, to small-scale enterprises or even professionals who might want to use the processing power of a supercomputer, for a specific period.

This is quite interesting. I wonder if this model could be successful in the US.

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