July 27th, 2010 9:14 am
Posted by Brock Taylor
Tags: buying a cluster, Clusters, HPC, volume HPC
For many years I've done a lot of thinking about how someone buys a cluster. Assuming the question of 'why' someone wants to buy a cluster is already answered - a defined application or set of applications that need a cluster to provide scalable problem solving - the 'how' becomes finding a solution that matches the need and getting that solution in use.
There are many different ways that someone can actually buy and deploy a cluster. Complete do-it-yourself experts buy all the parts themselves and do all of the work to assemble the solution. These systems are called dark clusters because only the buyer really knows that the end-game is an HPC cluster. There's the turn-key cluster where the buyer purchases a fully working and assembled solution from a vendor. Then there's all kinds of ways in between with varying levels of interaction between cluster buyer and vendors selling solutions and parts.
With all these different paths, though, I've looked for common steps that are always performed during the purchase process. After many hallway conversations and lots of coffee, I see there are four stages that always occur when buying an HPC cluster. The variables in the different paths are the the division of labor, expertise, and cost that is divided between buyer and seller of the solution. I define the four stages as follows:
Stage 1: Specifying the cluster. This is the determination of what hardware and what software is required for the cluster.
Stage 2: Component integration. Making sure the components spec'ed out in stage 1 actually work together is crucial.
Stage 3: Component manufacturing and software procurement. The parts have to come from somewhere.
Stage 4: Physical deployment and testing. Where all the parts come together, the solution is built, and there's some method of declaring the system ready for use.
Now, the model isn't without flaws. There are paths where the above stages are combined or may overlap, but I think the steps are all still performed. With this in mind, I am exploring how different paths present barriers to wider adoption of HPC clusters as problem solving resources. Some paths put too much expertise demand on the cluster buyer while other paths may put too much cost on the systems integrator. A volume cluster market has to find paths that both lower the expertise required to buy a system and provide a cost-effective approach for vendors to deliver and sell those solutions.
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