Does the path to HPC for SMEs lie in the Cloud?

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The challenge of opening up high-performance computing to smaller companies, and some national solutions to the problem were discussed at ISC High-Performance in Frankfurt last week. Tom Wilkie discovered that commercial, cloud-based solutions for small companies were also on display.

Small and medium sized companies are essential for employment and prosperity in the future. But part of the conference keynote address at ISC High Performance in Frankfurt last week pointed out that they were not taking up the tools of the future: computer simulation, and high-performance computing (HPC) in particular; as reported in Why do smaller companies shun HPC? Other sessions explored ways of Easing access to HPC for the SME and explained how A portal opens to German HPC centres.

Independently of these national European initiatives, one commercial company, Altair, announced at the event a project with Amazon Web Services and Intel to offer access to its Hyperworks engineering software free of charge (for a trial period) on the Cloud. The initiative is specifically aimed at SMEs, Ravi Kunju, the company’s vice president of strategy and business development, said in an interview with Scientific Computing World.

CAE users can submit project ideas to a team of Altair, AWS, and Intel representatives who then select the best projects. Altair will supply accepted participants with software, computing resources, and product support for the duration of the programme.

But interested users will have to hurry: the window for submission of proposals for the free trail closes on 30 September.

The high-performance computing ‘Cloud challenge’ builds on the creation last year of the Hyperworks Unlimited HPC Appliance, Kunju explained. This was a fully managed solution including hardware as well as system and application software with unlimited licences for the Altair software, so that engineering companies could do large-scale exploration of their designs and engineering problems without having to worry about paying for extra licences for the software.

However, it could take eight to 10 weeks for the physical machines (which were leased, not sold) to be prepared and delivered. So, Kunju explained: ‘One of the things we were thinking about was to do something in the virtual space.’

The partnership with AWS has led to the Hyperworks Unlimited Virtual Appliance which, according to Kunju, can be configured and made ready within eight to 10 minutes. ‘We give customers a secure URL and ID; the data is behind a firewall and protected in transit; and it’s all accessible from a single web browser,’ he said in an interview.

The company hopes the initiative will ‘democratise’ the use of cutting-edge CAE tools by reducing barriers for complex engineering simulation. Participants can choose from among several different configurations of the Hyperworks Unlimited Virtual Appliance. The lowest configuration starts with 32 cores and the highest can go up to 128 cores or more on the Intel Xeon E5 processor. The free use of Altair’s HWUL Virtual Appliance is supplemented by free credits from AWS.

Altair also announced in Frankfurt that it is to collaborate with Microsoft to build and offer high-performance computing (HPC) solutions on the Azure Cloud. This follows Microsoft’s decision to name Altair’s PBS Works suite as its preferred workload management software for Azure manufacturing clients.

This collaboration also will be aimed at manufacturing industry and its need to run compute-intensive simulations such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD), crash and safety analysis, optimisation and electromagnetics.

PBS Works is a different software suite from Altair’s Hyperworks. Whereas Hyperworks provides engineering application software, PBS Works allows HPC (and Cloud) users to optimize their use and the efficiency of the compute resource and to simplify workload management.

This is the last report from ISC High-Performance to explore Why do smaller companies shun HPC? together with ways of Easing access to HPC for the SME and describing how A portal opens to German HPC centres. Robert Roe offers a respite from policy-related issues by examining how Computer processors evolve to fit new data intensive niches –a look at new developments in processor technologies on display at ISC High Performance.