August 11th, 2010 9:03 am
Posted by Brock Taylor
Tags: cluster architecture, cluster tools, HPC, HPC cluster, HPC solutions, Intel Cluster Ready, predefined cluster, solutions integrator
Now I want to break down a cluster purchase of a completely predefined solution to look at who does what in the four stages similar to how I looked at do-it-yourself purchases.
Once again, this is an extreme case and is meant to be the opposite end of the spectrum. Really looking at a turn-key solution here that either arrives ready to go or is built on-site by the solutions integrator and then turned over to the purchaser.
Stage 1 - Specifying the parts: all solutions integrator. We're looking at the extreme, here, so the predefined solution has everything predefined down to the length of the power cord. The only work the purchaser has to do is say, "I'll take it." No prior experience needed.
Stage 2 - Integration: all solutions integrator. Obviously, can't lock customers into a purchase without being able to build it and ensure it works. The purchaser, similar to stage 1, doesn't need to know how to make the components work together.
Stage 3 - Manufacturing: all solutions integrator. Parts have to be assembled and the software procurement done according to the predefined design. Here, the purchaser is continually looking for the shipment tracking number to see when the system will arrive, but other than that, has nothing to do.
Stage 4 - Assembly and final testing: mostly solutions integrator. System is installed and deployed per the design. There's always some level of confidence testing done by the cluster purchaser after the keys are turned over, but the more rigorous testing is likely done by the solutions integrator. Hopefully, the integrator left instructions on how to check the oil, tire pressure, wiper fluid level, air filter, etc. before leaving.
So, this approach is all on the solutions vendor to design and deliver. One problem lies in defining the right solution before there is an order for a cluster. This means that predefined solutions likely target a known application or set of applications. Throw in an application that isn't part of the target list, and the solution may or may not support the new requirement. The solutions, therefore, aren't as flexible to purchaser needs in the future.
Since the solutions integrator is doing all the work, you get some added cost as well. Having the solution predefined does allow a manufacturing line approach, however, that can keep cost in check. It would be expected that the first two stages are only done once per design, and the solutions integrator can set up a canned process for manufacturing and deploying the systems in stages 3 and 4.
To me, this model seems much more likely to attract more users towards using clusters to expand computing solution power. It seems to be the road less traveled, however, which implies that it isn't as easy as it sounds. The flexibility of the solution is one of the keys, I think. Most customers want some level of customization, and with customizations come complexities in the processes of integration, manufacturing, and deployment.
There has to be some amount of commonality between HPC solutions that allows solutions integrators to produce and sell solutions that are flexible enough to meet the demands of a wide range of applications. Plus, there is still an expertise barrier that can keep potential cluster users away. Once the solution is in house, you still have to take care of it and know what to do to keep the system humming.
Intel Cluster Ready is an architecture with tools to help address these issues. Next post, I'll try to explain (in a high level) how.
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