Cray puts its supercomputer in the cloud

Cray Research is now offering its Urika-GX supercomputer as a cloud computing service, targeted at life-sciences customers looking for compute cycles to solve some heavy problems. This offering, done with cloud infrastructure provider Markley, makes Cray one of the last high-performance computing providers to give cloud computing a try.

But few companies actually need it.

Most enterprise-based R&D shops just need high-performance computing services from time to time, and they rarely need a specific platform such as the Urika-GX. And they can get the more generic high-performance computing services from Amazon Web Services or other modern cloud providers.

There surely are customers for the Urika-GX-as-a-service, but I suspect it’s a small, specialty market.

Supercomputers have always been out of reach for most businesses. That’s why they were made available through time-sharing in the pre-PC era, and why more recently companies would purchase a supercomputer jointly they would then share.

But most companies made do with general-purpose computing, such as mainframes in the 1980s and 1990s, client/server-style datacenters, in the 1990s through today, and increasingly the cloud in the last decade. The need for a specific Cray, IBM, Sunway, or Fujitsu supercomputer is thus very narrow.

High-performance computing (HPC) as a service is an umbrella term that includes supercomputing but is not restricted to such specialty computers. The distinction matters, because HPC is about the result, not the technology.

HPC in the cloud is a more practical approach for most companies, because you can mix and match the HPC service with traditional IaaS services, such as AWS’s S3 storage, EC2 compute, and hundreds of other services.

The cloud approach also makes high-performance computing available for both ongoing and occasional use, broadening the pool of companies that can benefit. Making the Urika-GX available in the same as-a-service approach will help life-sciences organizations that couldn’t afford to own a share of a supercomputer get that same benefit for their specialized needs. It’s good to see Cray join in that cloud approach for those who can benefit.

By the way, this is not the first time you could rent Cray time. Back in the day, I worked for Boeing Computer Service, a time-sharing and professional services company, and it provided a Cray XMP as a service though its time-sharing network. It even donated Cray time to the university I was attending. Although not a cloud service as defined today, it was close to the same concept as Cray’s new Urika-GX-as-a-service.

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Make sense of edge computing vs. cloud computing

The internet of things is real, and it’s a real part of the cloud. A key challenge is how you can get data processed from so many devices. Cisco Systems predicts that cloud traffic is likely to rise nearly fourfold by 2020, increasing 3.9 zettabytes (ZB) per year in 2015 (the latest full year for which data is available) to 14.1ZB per year by 2020.

As a result, we could have the cloud computing perfect storm from the growth of IoT. After all, IoT is about processing device-generated data that is meaningful, and cloud computing is about using data from centralized computing and storage. Growth rates of both can easily become unmanageable.

So what do we do? The answer is something called “edge computing.” We already know that computing at the edge pushes most of the data processing out to the edge of the network, close to the source of the data. Then it’s a matter of dividing the processing between the edge and the centralized system, meaning a public cloud such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure. 

That may sound a like a client/server architecture, which also involved figuring out what to do at the client versus at the server. For IoT and any highly distributed applications, you’ve essentially got a client/network edge/server architecture going on, or — if your devices can’t do any processing themselves, a network edge/server architecture.

The goal is to process near the device the data that it needs quickly, such as to act on. There are hundreds of use cases where reaction time is the key value of the IoT system, and consistently sending the data back to a centralized cloud prevents that value from happening.

You would still use the cloud for processing that is either not as time-sensitive or is not needed by the device, such as for big data analytics on data from all your devices.

There’s another dimension to this: edge computing and cloud computing are two very different things. One does not replace the other. But too many articles confuse IT pros by suggesting that edge computing will displace cloud computing. It’s no more true than saying PCs would displace the datacenter.

It makes perfect sense to create purpose-built edge computing-based applications, such as an app that places data processing in a sensor to quickly process reactions to alarms. But you’re not going to place your inventory-control data and applications at the edge — moving all compute to the edge would result in a distributed, unsecured, and unmanageable mess.

All the public cloud providers have IoT strategies and technology stacks that include, or will include, edge computing. Edge and cloud computing can and do work well together, but edge computing is for purpose-built systems with special needs.   Cloud computing is a more general-purpose platform that also can work with purpose-built systems in that old client/server model.

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Interns for MASI and NPNH

Funding Opportunity ID: 293745
Opportunity Number: P17AS00250
Opportunity Title: Interns for MASI and NPNH
Opportunity Category: Discretionary
Opportunity Category Explanation:
Funding Instrument Type: Cooperative Agreement
Category of Funding Activity: Education
Category Explanation:
CFDA Number(s): 15.931
Eligible Applicants: Others (see text field entitled “Additional Information on Eligibility” for clarification)
Additional Information on Eligibility: Notice of intent to enter agreement with Student Conservation Association under cooperative agreement P15AC00031 without additional competition. No applications will be accepted.
Agency Code: DOI-NPS
Agency Name: Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Posted Date: May 10, 2017
Close Date: Notice of intent to enter agreement with Student Conservation Association under cooperative agreement P15AC00031 without additional competition. No applications will be accepted.
Last Updated Date: May 10, 2017
Award Ceiling: $65,751
Award Floor: $1
Estimated Total Program Funding: $65,751
Expected Number of Awards: 1
Description: The objective of this Task Agreement is to provide interns to work in various parks within Manhattan Sites and the National Parks of New York Harbor. The three interpretation and social media interns will present formal and informal talks, guided tours, historic education programs or multi-media presentations at one or more of the historic sites and parks within New York. The two curatorial/historian interns will work with historic collections and catalogue the library collection at Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace as well as other historic sites in New York and write articles for publication by the NPS. The visual information intern will provide support to all of the parks within NPNH in developing print graphics and digital media platforms to help create video and graphics for NPNHâ¿¿s various social media outlets. In addition, all six of the interns will be provided park based training ranging from curatorial collections, interpretation, resource protection and safety based operational leadership training. This project also includes three additional enrichment days coordinated and facilitated by the SCA and the NPS to promote larger thinking across boundaries to address resource based challenges affecting parks today. All 17 SCA interns within New York/New Jersey will participate, working in small groups to identify an issue or challenge they observe during their NPS Academy week. They will work on this throughout the summer, clearly defining and contextualizing their selected issue/challenge and create a proposal to address the issue or capitalize on the opportunity they have identified. The three enrichment days will provide opportunities for the teams to work on their project and develop their skills in innovative approaches to community engagement and involvement culminating in a presentation to NPNH park leaders on the last enrichment day.
Version: Synopsis 1

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ABLI Interpretation Interns

Funding Opportunity ID: 293744
Opportunity Number: NPS-NOI-17-ABLI-P17AC00568
Opportunity Title: ABLI Interpretation Interns
Opportunity Category: Discretionary
Opportunity Category Explanation:
Funding Instrument Type: Cooperative Agreement
Category of Funding Activity: Education
Category Explanation:
CFDA Number(s): 15.931
Eligible Applicants: Others (see text field entitled “Additional Information on Eligibility” for clarification)
Additional Information on Eligibility: This funding announcement is not a request for applications. This is a Notice of Intent to award to the Student Conservation Association.
Agency Code: DOI-NPS
Agency Name: Department of the Interior
National Park Service
Posted Date: May 10, 2017
Close Date: May 20, 2017
Last Updated Date: May 10, 2017
Award Ceiling: $0
Award Floor: $0
Estimated Total Program Funding: $37,306
Expected Number of Awards: 1
Description: NOTICE OF INTENT TO AWARD: This funding announcement is not a request for applications or proposals. This announcement is to provide public notice of the National Park Service’s intention to award a task agreement under a previously competed or single source justified master cooperative agreement. The objective of this Agreement is to build the next generation of conservation leaders and inspire lifelong stewardship of our environment and communities by engaging young people in hands-on service to the land through service opportunities, outdoor skills, and leadership training. Please see attached Full Announcement for more information.
Version: Synopsis 1