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Alin Irimie

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New Amazon EC2 Instance Type - The Cluster Compute Instance

You can now run many types of large-scale network-intensive jobs without losing the core advantages of EC2

With Cluster Compute Instances, you can now run many types of large-scale network-intensive jobs without losing the core advantages of EC2: a pay-as-you-go pricing model and the ability to scale up and down to meet your needs.

Each Cluster Compute Instance consists of a pair of quad-core Intel ‘Nehalem’ X5570 processors with a total of 33.5 ECU (EC2 Compute Units), 23 GB of RAM, and 1690 GB of local instance storage, all for $1.60 per hour.

Because many HPC applications and other network-bound applications make heavy use of network communication, Cluster Compute Instances are connected using a 10 Gbps network. Within this network you can create one or more placement groups of type ‘cluster’ and then launch Cluster Compute Instances within each group. Instances within each placement group of this type benefit from non-blocking bandwidth and low latency node to node communication.

The EC2 APIs, the command-line tools, and the AWS Management Console have all been updated to support the creation and use of placement groups. For example, the following pair of commands creates a placement group called biocluster and then launches 8 Cluster Compute Instances inside of the group:

$ ec2-create-placement-group biocluster -s cluster
$ ec2-run-instances ami-2de43f55 –type cc1.4xlarge –placement-group biocluster -n 8

The new instance type is now available for Linux/UNIX use in a single Availability Zone in the US East (Northern Virginia) region. Will support it in additional zones and regions in the future. You can purchase individual Reserved Instances for a one or a three year term, but you cant buy them within specific cluster placement groups just yet. There is a default usage limit for this instance type of 8 instances (providing 64 cores). If you wish to run more than 8 instances, you can request a higher limit using the Amazon EC2 instance request form.

The Cluster Compute Instances use hardware-assisted (HVM) virtualization instead of the paravirtualization used by the other instance types and requires booting from EBS, so you will need to create a new AMI in order to use them. We suggest that you use our Centos-based AMI as a base for your own AMIs for optimal performance. See the EC2 User Guide or the EC2 Developer Guide for more information.

The only way to know if this is a genuine HPC setup is to benchmark it, and Amazon just finished doing so. They ran the gold-standard High Performance Linpack benchmark on 880 Cluster Compute instances (7040 cores) and measured the overall performance at 41.82 TeraFLOPS using Intels MPI (Message Passing Interface) and MKL (Math Kernel Library) libraries, along with their compiler suite. This result places Amazon at position 146 on the Top500 list of supercomputers.

Putting this all together, this is a true fire-breathing dragon of an offering. You can now get world-class compute and network performance on an economical, pay-as-you-go basis.  The individual instances perform really well, and you can tie a bunch of them together using a fast network to attack large-scale problems. You can’t get this much compute power so fast or so economically anywhere else.

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Alin Irimie is a software engineer - architect, designer, and developer with over 10 years experience in various languages and technologies. Currently he is Messaging Security Manager at Sunbelt Software, a security company. He is also the CTO of RADSense Software, a software consulting company. He has expertise in Microsoft technologies such as .NET Framework, ASP.NET, AJAX, SQL Server, C#, C++, Ruby On Rails, Cloud computing (Amazon and Windows Azure),and he also blogs about cloud technologies here.