SGI Cyclone Offers HPC in the Cloud

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SGI has launched a new side to its business: cloud computing for the HPC crowd. SGI, which was formed through Rackable’s acquisition of Silicon Graphics, launched SGI Cyclone on Friday, joining a number of high performance computing (HPC) providers now offering cloud services.

For a list billing price of $0.95 per HPC core hour, SGI Cyclone is offered in two service models: Software as a service (SaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Cyclone will initially support five technical domains: computational fluid dynamics, finite element analysis, computational chemistry and materials, computational biology, and ontologies.

HPC applications are a growing niche in the cloud computing universe. Last August, Linux cluster provider Penguin Computing announced Penguin On Demand. This month, Microsoft boosted its HPC cloud profile by giving away Azure compute time for free to engineers and scientists supported by the National Science Foundation.

The entry of SGI and Penguin into the cloud points to the high level of interest by the scientific and research communities in on-demand computing.

“More and more organizations that rely on HPC resources are investigating clouds for solutions that offer additional computing capacity and flexibility, and reduce or eliminate the need to make additional long-term investments in hardware,” said Earl Joseph, IDC program vice president for high performance computing.

SGI says Cyclone is backed by the industry’s fastest supercomputing hardware architectures, including SGI Altix scale-up, Altix ICE scale-out and Altix XE hybrid clusters, all based on Intel Xeon or Itanium processors. Customers can also choose between Novell SUSE or Red Hat Linux, with further performance offered by SGI ProPack. Altair PBS Professional and SGI ISLE Cluster Manager provide system scheduling and management.

“Over the Internet, customers can now gain access to the world’s fastest, most advanced computers and pay for only what they use,”said Mark J. Barrenechea, SGI CEO. “Cyclone will help customers focus on their business or research instead of worrying about complex computers or infrastructure.”

Penguin says since its launch of POD in August, some 200 of its 2,000-strong customer base are using cloud computing, including some new wins in the life sciences space. Penguin and SGI will face stiff competition, however, from Microsoft and Amazon which are wooing HPC customers by giving away free cloud time. In addition to Microsoft giving away access to Azure, Amazon offers free usage credits to educators, academic researchers and students.

For paying customers, pricing is key, particularly as scientists in academia are often constrained by budgets. SGI’s list billing price of $0.95 per HPC core hour is higher than the $0.68 per hour for Linux and Unix usage that Amazon is offering to customers requiring extra large high-CPU on-demand instances.

Penguin said it grew its business by 35% last year on the back of customer uncertainty surrounding the future of Sun and Silicon Graphics Inc., which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May 2006, and emerged from it in October of the same year. In April 2009, its assets were acquired by Rackable Systems for $25 million in cash.

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