EPCC Offers Cut-Rate Supercomputing Cycles to Businesses


The Edinburgh Parallel Computing Centre (EPCC) is renting out its new 2,016-core Cirrus supercomputer for businesses in need of on-demand HPC. The system, an SGI ICE XA cluster, is being offered to commercial firms for applications in automotive, aerospace, energy, oil and gas, general engineering, life sciences and financial services for what appears to be a very reasonable price.

Specifically, EPCC is charging just £0.0369 per core-hour on the cluster. That works out to around $0.05 at current exchange rates, a figure that undercuts the current pricing for the comparably configured c4 instance offered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). Current on-demand pricing for the c4 in the EU (Ireland) region runs about $0.10 to $0.12 per core-hour, depending on how many cores you’re renting at a time. Cheaper c4 pricing can be had with reserved instances where you pay upfront and in bulk, but to get anything in the $0.05 ballpark, you’d have to purchase for at least three years of service. At that point, you’re shelling out thousands of dollars in advance for whole CPUs, so you might as well purchase or lease the equivalent server (or servers) outright.

Also, EPCC’s SGI ICE XA system has more powerful componentry than the c4 instance at Amazon – not too surprising considering the machine cost £1.45 million. According the hardware specs for Cirrus, the cluster is powered by 2.1 GHz, 18-core Intel Xeon E5-2695 (Broadwell) processors, while c4 is based on the older 10-core Xeon E5-2666 (Haswell) processors (although, at 2.9 GHz, these run substantially faster). As far as network bandwidth, the EPCC machine is equipped with 54.5 Gbps FDR InfiniBand, while the best speeds you can get on the c4 is 10 Gbps. There also appears to be about twice as much memory per core in Cirrus as its c4 counterpart.

But the largest differentiator may turn out to be EPCC itself. According George Graham, the Commercial Manager of the center, the organization’s HPC expertise is available to help businesses get their codes up and running on the machine. That something Amazon, or most other big name cloud providers, would be hard-pressed to match.

Better yet, to inaugurate the new service, EPCC is offering 1,000 free core-hours and support for the first 20 companies that apply. While that amounts to only about $50 worth of computing, the free support could be worth much more. If any of this sounds enticing, the Cirrus web page will provide all the particulars.

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