Amazon just announced, on the first full day of SC10 (SuperComputing 2010), the availability of Amazon EC2 (cloud) machine instances with dual Nvidia Fermi GPUs. According to Amazon's specification of instance types, this "Cluster GPU Quadruple Extra Large" instance contains:
- 22 GB of memory
- 33.5 EC2 Compute Units (2 x Intel Xeon X5570, quad-core "Nehalem" architecture)
- 2 x NVIDIA Tesla "Fermi" M2050 GPUs
- 1690 GB of instance storage
- 64-bit platform
- I/O Performance: Very High (10 Gigabit Ethernet)
One of these XXXXL instances costs $2.10 per hour for Linux; Windows users need not apply. Or, if you reserve an instance for a year – for $5630 – you then pay just $0.74 per hour during that year. (Prices quoted from Amazon's price list as of 11/15/2010; no doubt it will decrease over time.)
This became such hot news that GPU was a trending topic on Twitter for a while.
For those of you who don't watch such things, many of the Top500 HPC sites – the 500 supercomputers worldwide that are the fastest at the Linpack benchmark – have nodes featuring Nvidia Fermi GPUs. This year that list notoriously includes, in the top slot, the system causing the heaviest breathing at present: The Tianhe-1A at the National Supercomputer Center in Tianjin, in China.
I wonder how well this will do in the market. Cloud elasticity – the ability to add or remove nodes on demand – is usually a big cloud selling point for commercial use (expand for holiday rush, drop nodes after). How much it will really be used in HPC applications isn't clear to me, since those are usually batch mode, not continuously operating, growing and shrinking, like commercial web services. So it has to live on price alone. The price above doesn't feel all that inexpensive to me, but I'm not calibrated well in HPC costs these days, and don't know how much it compares with, for example, the cost of running the same calculation on Teragrid. Ad hoc, extemporaneous use of HPC is another possible use, but, while I'm sure it exists, I'm not sure how much exists.
Then again, how about services running games, including the rendering? I wonder if, for example, the communications secret sauce used by OnLive to stream rendered game video fast enough for first-person shooters can operate out of Amazon instances. Even if it doesn't, games that can tolerate a tad more latency may work. Possibly games targeting small screens, requiring less rendering effort, are another possibility. That could crater startup costs for companies offering games over the web.
Time will tell. For accelerators, we certainly are living in interesting times.