Cray explores options for supercomputing-as-a-service

Should you run your weather simulations in the cloud?

Cray is exploring options to offer supercomputing "as a service", but don’t expect AWS to be offering the venerable vendor’s number-crunching monsters online anytime soon.

Rather, the company is looking at ways it can offer its technology as a service, which if nothing else potentially relieves customers of at least some of the incredible upfront cost of buying one of its systems.

“Certainly as a buying model, there are customers who are attracted to an op ex over cap ex buying model,” Cray’s chief strategy officer Barry Bolding told us at the International Supercomputing Conference in Frankfurt last week. He said it would begin unveiling some novel buying options in about a month’s time.

But Bolding said the nature of supercomputing meant that it wasn’t just a question of offering processor cycles online.

“Classic cloud is all about ignorance of the underlying infrastructure,” he said. “It’s the way you get the optimal price and the optimal TCO, [by asking for] so many cores, so much memory, and you don’t care what it is.”

“The problem is, because we focus on the most complex problems, knowledge of the underlying infrastructure is really important to get the maximum value, feeding the maximum return on investment, the maximum performance that you need,” he said. “Customers that we have want to know the underlying infrastructure is.”

“Now, can you satisfy both and do an opex model, yes, there are ways to do that, so see us looking at ways that we can make Cray more accessible. But those are just buying models. And to be honest, that’s just what the cloud is, a buying model.”

Bolding said that in addition to traditional supercomputing - weather simulations and the like - the company was seeing analytics become increasingly important, a market it targets with its Urika platforms. This meant analytics and simulation would increasingly become two parts of the solution to the complex problems its customers typically target.

So it might not be a stretch to see the analytics part of the equation as perhaps more amenable to other models initially.

Bolding said: “The ability to burst out a Cray system to get to cloud if you need it - that’s something we’re investigating but we don’t have to offer today.

“Putting a Cray into the cloud in some way is also something we’re investigating but we’re not ready to talk about yet.”

It would seem likely that this would be done in partnership with partners, though someone more like a traditional solutions service provider than a classic just-us-your-credit-card cloud provider.

Bolding said it was a question of small steps, with the high-end of the market not moving particularly fast. “I don’t see that as a big part of our business. I see that as an important part for the small part of our business going forward.”

“You have to have to provide in most of those cases a complete solution so whether that’s a cloud service provider or a solutions service provider that’s what we need to do. Cray is looking to have strong partners in this space.” ®

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