U.S. Department of Energy Asks, Is Cloud Computing Fast Enough for Science?

With cloud computing gaining acceptance in the business world, the U.S. Department of Energy wants to know if cloud computing can also meet the needs of the scientific computing. The National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center (NERSC) has launched Magellan, a cloud computing testbed to explore this question, with facilities that will test the effectiveness of cloud computing for scientific projects.

Magellan is built to meet the special requirements of scientific computing using technology and tool sets unavailable in commercial clouds, including high-bin processors, high-bandwidth parallel file systems, high-capacity data archives, and pre-installed scientific applications and libraries.

But will cloud computing be fast enough?

According to a report in Federal Computing Week, preliminary results suggest that commercially available clouds operating Message Passing Interface (MPI) applications such as weather calculations suffer in performance. “For the more traditional MPI applications there were significant slowdowns, over a factor of 10,” said Kathy Yelick, NERSC division director.

Performance isn’t the only factor the Magellan cloud is testing. It’s also looking at cloud computing’s efficiency and its suitability for various research projects. Magellan is a two-year $32 million project involving about 3000 NERSC scientists. The goal, in part, is to help inform the DOE, scientists, and the tech industry what is needed in terms of configuration and management of scientific cloud computing resources.

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