Amazon Elastic Cloud Computer Cuts Cost of Supercomputer Access

By Frank Ohlhorst  |  Posted 2011-12-30 Print this article Print

Need a super computer? Amazon can oblige with hourly rentals of the world's 42nd fastest supercomputer.

Getting compute time on a supercomputer has long been a privilege limited to physicists, scientists, medical researchers and other academic types.

Researchers had to apply for time by submitting project proposals in hopes they would be deemed worthy of approval and priority access to a supercomputer. In fact, getting time on a supercomputer used to be as competitive as getting time on the world's most powerful telescopes. There were long waiting lists. But that's not necessarily the case any longer.

According to reports, Amazon has built a virtual supercomputer that runs on Amazon Web Services Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and is looking to change the supercomputer access paradigm. Amazon has named its virtual supercomputer the Elastic Cloud Computer and it is ranked as the 42nd fastest supercomputer in the world. Amazon's Elastic Cloud Computer delivers some 240 trillion calculations per second, or 240 teraflops on 17,000 cores.

While that is a rather impressive feat, it does fall far short of the current supercomputing champion, Fujitsu's K Computer, which maxed out at 10 petaflops (10 quadrillion calculations a second) in November 2011. Nevertheless, the Elastic Cloud Computer proves to be a comparative bargain, almost anyone can use the system for $1,279 per hour, or $11 million a year if run full time.

Fujitsu's K Computer costs Fujitsu around $10 million per year just for the power bill. Fujitsu's published specs also states that the K Computer cost around $20 million to build and consists of 864 racks with 88,128 interconnected CPUs. Each processor in the K Computer is linked to 16 GBytes of RAM, bringing the memory total 1,377 terabytes, which requires 9.89 megawatts of power, about the same as 10,000 suburban homes.

By democratizing access to supercomputing, Amazon may very well change the business intelligence and big data markets for many businesses, which will now be able to run advanced algorithms on large amounts of data to identify trends and build plans of action based upon big data analytics.

Prior to the Elastic Cloud Computer, businesses either had to build their own super compute clusters at a cost of tens of millions, or rent physical access on an existing supercomputer, if available and a price dozens of times Amazon's hourly rate. 

Frank Ohlhorst Frank J. Ohlhorst is the Executive Technology Editor for eWeek Channel Insider and brings with him over 20 years of experience in the Information Technology field.He began his career as a network administrator and applications program in the private sector for two years before joining a computer consulting firm as a programmer analyst. In 1988 Frank founded a computer consulting company, which specialized in network design, implementation, and support, along with custom accounting applications developed in a variety of programming languages.In 1991, Frank took a position with the United States Department of Energy as a Network Manager for multiple DOE Area Offices with locations at Brookhaven National Laboratory (BNL), Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPL), Argonne National Laboratory (ANL), FermiLAB and the Ames Area Office (AMESAO). Frank's duties included managing the site networks, associated staff and the inter-network links between the area offices. He also served at the Computer Security Officer (CSO) for multiple DOE sites. Frank joined CMP Technology's Channel group in 1999 as a Technical Editor assigned to the CRN Test Center, within a year, Frank became the Senior Technical Editor, and was responsible for designing product testing methodologies, assigning product reviews, roundups and bakeoffs to the CRN Test Center staff.In 2003, Frank was named Technology Editor of CRN. In that capacity, he ensured that CRN maintained a clearer focus on technology and increased the integration of the Test Center's review content into both CRN's print and web properties. He also contributed to Netseminar's, hosted sessions at CMP's Xchange Channel trade shows and helped to develop new methods of content delivery, Such as CRN-TV.In September of 2004, Frank became the Director of the CRN Test Center and was charged with increasing the Test Center's contributions to CMP's Channel Web online presence and CMP's latest monthly publication, Digital Connect, a magazine geared towards the home integrator. He also continued to contribute to CMP's Netseminar series, Xchange events, industry conferences and CRN-TV.In January of 2007, CMP Launched CRNtech, a monthly publication focused on technology for the channel, with a mailed audience of 70,000 qualified readers. Frank was instrumental in the development and design of CRNTech and was the editorial director of the publication as well as its primary contributor. He also maintained the edit calendar, and hosted quarterly CRNTech Live events.In June 2007, Frank was named Senior Technology Analyst and became responsible for the technical focus and edit calendars of all the Channel Group's publications, including CRN, CRNTech, and VARBusiness, along with the Channel Group's specialized publications Solutions Inc., Government VAR, TechBuilder and various custom publications. Frank joined Ziff Davis Enterprise in September of 2007 and focuses on creating editorial content geared towards the purveyors of Information Technology products and services. Frank writes comparative reviews, channel analysis pieces and participates in many of Ziff Davis Enterprise's tradeshows and webinars. He has received several awards for his writing and editing, including back to back best review of the year awards, and a president's award for CRN-TV. Frank speaks at many industry conferences, is a contributor to several IT Books, holds several records for online hits and has several industry certifications, including Novell's CNE, Microsoft's MCP.Frank can be reached at

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