Is cloud computing fast enough for science?

Energy Department project offers cloud testbed

Early results from the Energy Department’s Magellan cloud computing testbed suggest that commercially available clouds suffer in performance when operating Message Passing Interface (MPI) applications such as weather calculations, an official has said.

“For the more traditional MPI applications there were significant slowdowns, over a factor of 10,” said Kathy Yelick, division director for the National Energy Research Scientific Computing division. NERSC is partnered on the Magellan cloud project with the Argonne National Laboratory.

Under the Magellan project, DOE is exploring many aspects of the application of clouds to scientific research, including performance, efficiency, and suitability for various types of research. At least six different tests currently are being carried out in the two-year $32 million project, Yelick said. About 3,000 NERSC scientists and other people have been invited to participate in Magellan.


Related stories:

Magellan explores the cloud as a research tool

Feds could get access to advanced cloud computing technologies


One of the tests compared performance between various commercial clouds and NERSC’s computers running in batch-style. Some of those tests involved MPI applications, in which there are many communications between processes and synchronizations between parallel processes. MPI applications typically are used for weather forecasting and for some chemistry research.

“The big performance differences were in the MPI applications,” Yelick said.

However, for computations that can be performed serially, such as genomics calculations, there was little or no deterioration in performance in the commercial cloud, Yelick said. Magellan directors recently set up a collaboration with the Joint Genome Institute to carry out some of the institute’s computations at the Magellan cloud testbed.

Magellan’s purpose is to explore a wide range of scientific issues regarding cloud computing, and ultimately to advise DOE how to incorporate cloud computing into its research, Yelick said.

“Some people want to understand the performance factor: seeing how fast the cloud will run. Others are really interested in the impact of virtualization and to what extent can we run multiple jobs on the same node without a performance impact,” Yelick said. Although commercial cloud providers give an “illusion of elasticity,” in reality there are limits on performance and some jobs are sharing the same processors, she added.

Currently, scientists with computational research needs typically purchase and configure computer clusters. But NERSC is hopeful that some of that research could be performed in a cloud, Yelick said.

“We’re really looking at this as an alternative to scientists buying their own clusters,” Yelick said. “Our goal is to inform DOE and the scientists and industry what is the sweet spot for cloud computing in science; what do you need to do to configure a cloud for science, how do to manage it, what is the business model, and do you need to buy your own cloud.”

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.

Rising Stars

Meet 21 early-career leaders who are doing great things in federal IT.

Featured

  • SEC Chairman Jay Clayton

    SEC owns up to 2016 breach

    A key database of financial information was breached in 2016, possibly in support of insider trading, said the Securities and Exchange Commission.

  • Image from Shutterstock.com

    DOD looks to get aggressive about cloud adoption

    Defense leaders and Congress are looking to encourage more aggressive cloud policies and prod reluctant agencies to embrace experimentation and risk-taking.

  • Shutterstock / Pictofigo

    The next big thing in IT procurement

    Steve Kelman talks to the agencies that have embraced tech demos in their acquisition efforts -- and urges others in government to give it a try.

  • broken lock

    DHS bans Kaspersky from federal systems

    The Department of Homeland Security banned the Russian cybersecurity company Kaspersky Lab’s products from federal agencies in a new binding operational directive.

  • man planning layoffs

    USDA looks to cut CIOs as part of reorg

    The Department of Agriculture is looking to cut down on the number of agency CIOs in the name of efficiency and better communication across mission areas.

  • What's next for agency cyber efforts?

    Ninety days after the Trump administration's executive order, FCW sat down with agency cyber leaders to discuss what’s changing.

Reader comments

Mon, Jun 21, 2010

When researchers in the lab where I work have workstations utilizing 20 to 40% of their Gb-eth to the SAN, I don't see how we could get to the cloud fast enough. Fire half the staff and get a much bigger pipe with the their salary money?

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group