SGI offers supercomputing as a service

The service, Cyclone, is aimed at technical computing users

SGI is rolling out what it believes is the first hosted supercomputing service on the market.

Called Cyclone, the service is designed specifically for technical computing applications, said Geoffrey Noer, senior director of product marketing at SGI.

Cyclone comprises SGI hardware plus its software stack and is served out of two data centers: one in Silicon Valley and the other in the Midwest.

SGI is offering two types of service. The first is a software-as-a-service model where customers hire the actual applications that run on the computing service. The other service is available to users who have their own software, either commercial or custom, but want access to SGI’s high-performance computing hardware and software.

At launch on Thursday, SGI is offering 18 hosted applications that fall into five different scientific or engineering domains, including computational biology, computational chemistry and materials, computational fluid dynamics, finite element analysis and ontologies. It expects to continually add support for other applications.

Use of Cyclone costs US$0.95 per core per hour. Users must also rent a management node and can opt to rent high-speed storage for $0.20 per gigabyte per month. Customers will also need to pay licensing fees for any third-party software they use and have the option of hiring SGI professional services to help with optimizing their projects.

Cyclone is built to meet the specific needs of high-performance computer users, so the setup is a bit different from hosted compute services offerings from the likes of Amazon. “It’s tightly tuned for technical computing,” Noer said. For instance, SGI does not virtualize its machines.

“That can have a negative performance aspect especially on technical computing applications,” he said. “If nobody’s on that system you’re going to get quick results. But if you have several others it may take longer."

Customers tell SGI how many cores they need and for how long, and SGI allocates physical resources to them. The result is that customers have more predictability, Noer said. "Predictability and high performance… is part of what technical computing is about," he said.

Cyclone uses InfiniBand interconnections for speedy connections between machines because many technical computing applications rely on such quick communication.

SGI envisions a wide variety of users and use cases for Cyclone. A researcher at a university could use Cyclone for a project funded by a grant that wouldn’t cover the investment in a dedicated supercomputing center, for instance.

Companies could use Cyclone to handle potential demand spikes, in addition to their own supercomputing resources. Or they could use Cyclone as a fallback if their own high-performance computing data center fails.

Cyclone can also let companies “experiment with the latest and greatest hardware and do that without having to upfront pay for expensive equipment before you know you need it,” Noer said. SGI last year introduced Altix UV, its newest supercomputer, and it will be first available in Cyclone.

Companies can try out their code running on the Altix UV in Cyclone before deciding to make the investment in the new supercomputer.

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