Amazon EC2 and other cloud services are expanding the market for high-performance computing. Without access to a national lab or a supercomputer in your own data center, cloud computing lets businesses spin up temporary clusters at will and stop paying for them as soon as the computing needs are met.
If you own your Data Center, you might be a little nervous right now as even a Data Center can be outsourced on an as needed basis. Especially if you are doing scientific computing you should consider the fixed costs of acquiring and maintaining those sunk, capital costs after the cluster is up and running. This story provides one great example of what I think the Cloud Computer could one day become. Rent-a-Center style data centers and compute clusters seem like an incredible value especially for a University but even more so for a business that may not need a to keep a real live data center under their control. Examples abound as even online services like Drop Box lease their compute cycles from the likes of Amazon Web Services and the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). And if migrating an application into a Data Center along with the data set to be analyzed can be sped up sufficiently and the cost kept down, who knows what might be possible.
Opportunity costs are many when it comes to having access to a sufficiently large number of nodes in a compute cluster. Mostly with modeling applications, you get to run a simulation at finer time slices, at higher resolution possibly gaining a better understanding of how close your algorithms match the real world. This isn’t just for business but for science as well and I think being saddled with a typical Data Center installation and it’s infrastructure and depreciation costs along with staffing make it seem less attractive if the big Data Center providers are willing to sell part of their compute cycles at a reasonable rate. The best part is you can shop around too. In the bad old days of batch computing and the glassed in data center, before desktops and mini-computers people were dying to get access to the machine and run their jobs. Now the surplus of computing cycles is so great for the big players, they help subsidize the costs of build-outs and redundancies by letting people bid of the spare compute cycles they have just lying around generating heat. It’s a whole new era of compute cycle auctions and I for one am dying to see more stories like this in the future.