The Übercloud Experiment. An Interview

The Übercloud Experiment is the brainchild of Wolfgang Gentzsch and Burak Yenier.

Wolfgang Gentzsch is mostly based in Germany - he travels a lot. Among his many achievements, Wolfgang is the Chairman of the ISC Cloud Conference for HPC  Big Data in the Cloudthe main founder of Gridware Inc, acquired by Sun Microsystems in 2000  He is probably the Mr. HPC-Cloud  worldwide. He lists - with an ingenious sense of humor  - the 2010 Dilbert Award - on his LinkedIn page. Just click the link.

Burak Yenier is a hands-on expert on what we call  today an Internet based cloud. Before it was called Application Service Provider (ASP) or E-Commerce. Based in Silicon Valley for the last 13 years,  Burak worked in various start-ups and he is now the VP of Operations (my translation: the guy who gets the job done) of a large San Francisco financial services company.

We talked over Skype, hours before the rains in Northern California brought a 30 hours power outage in my office. I call this luck.

Miha: How did you two meet?

Burak:  I was puzzled on  why the cloud computing was not up and running or easily accessible in High Performance Computing (HPC).  Wolfgang, whom  I have not met before, seemed the one who may have the answer.  I sent him an InMail via LinkedIn. Wolfgang responded immediately and said: "I will give you 1.5 hours right now.  Let's talk!"

Wolfgang:  Burak had some deep questions around “why is cloud adoption in HPC so slow?” .  I had no answers for some of his questions. I had no practical experience from solid case studies, because they aren't many.  So we started an intense four weeks discussion trying to seek proven facts that we can use.  Some answers we came across were from real experts who had proof to back up their statements, but many others  believed that they  had an answer, but  all they had were suppositions. I  traveled to US to see Burak and we spent a few days together in the same room, brainstorming. At the end, we decided to find out ourselves. We needed proven answers and came out with the idea for a real community project.

Miha: I like its' name The Übercloud Experiment.and its Ümlaut. Ümlauts bring good fortune. You just completed the Phase 1. How did it go?

HPC and Clouds. Courtesy:
Burak: Our main  objective in Phase 1 was to discover if the  remote HPC Cloud access could work given the right circumstances. As the word "cloud" has so many meaning, The Übercloud Experiment definition refers to the remote access to one or many  HPC clusters. We solved this conundrum at the end of  Phase 1 and we can say, yes, it works. And it works not only for academic, but for commercial and industrial environments.  We focused on  the end user requirements, more than performance measurements. We expected about ten participants from Silicon Valley area, but we ended with one hundred and sixty participants from twenty countries. We expected five projects and we ended with more than 20 projects. We concluded that the remote HPC Cloud access is not simple, not mature, but sure it works and has a tremendous up-scaling potential. The sheer enthusiasm of the participants does not cease to amaze us.

Miha: Awesome. What about Phase 2?

Wolfgang: In Phase 1, we added an entire team of experts to each end-user. This was not simple, but it worked. We recruited as volunteers IaaS experts, ISV experts, HPC experts and so on. This took a lot of time. But now we have a good idea of what works and what isn't working.  Phase 2 started officially at SC'12 in Salt Lake City in November, but  started de-facto in December 2012. We count already two hundred and sixty participating organizations expanding outstandingly in size of  the community we created in Phase 1. Now we are trying to remove most, if not all the  roadblocks that prevent the  HPC cloud from being easy to use.

Miha: How The Übercloud Experiment manages 260 or more participants?

Wolfgang: A challenge! But using our Phase 1 learning - we implemented an easy to use and elegant on-line  project management tool, Basecamp. Our communications are now efficient and scale up.

Miha: What motivates the participants?  What they hope to happen at the end of Phase 2?

Wolfgang: Every participant has in mind future benefits, depending on the role they play as a team member. The end user will want to access more resources on-demand at attractive pricing. The ISVs in crowded market segments, like Computer Aided Engineering (CAE), can devise more utility services and increase the revenues. The HPC consultants will recruit more customers for HPC Cloud implementations.

Burak: We want to keep the experiment going.  As long as our community is willing to keep this effort up we continue.  Later the community will look for commercial benefits, but there is nothing decided on how to explore this in our  Übercloud Experiment  so far.

Miha: Do you mean  monetization is  not part of The Übercloud Experiment?

Burak: We know that monetary exchanges already exist in remote HPC services for some time, before we started our experiment.  But we do not have the patterns, the user success stories that scale up,  to make those  business operations mainstream. That we have to figure it out and then,  the economic model will follow. This is a question of time rather than a question of how. We observe, report and disseminate our  discoveries to accelerate this process.

Miha: Do you  plan to implement some kind of certifications?

Burak: Not for now. The community is not mature enough. But each project implies a concept of informal certification, as users, providers and consultants are testing each other up.

Miha: Did any 3rd parties ( investors, large companies , analyst groups)  express interest in The Uber-Cloud Experiment?

Wolfgang: No, but this may happen in the future. Burak and I are both pleasantly surprised at the success of The Uber-Cloud Experiment.  We asked ourselves: Why?  One reason is that we think the timing is perfect. The HPC community recognizes the progress of the cloud business in mainstream enterprises and is anxious to emulate it in HPC.  Another reason is the participants invest their own efforts and the available resources they  already have, and the project and each participant do not generate any measurable  profits and are not penalized for failure. We hope -in time -  the collective intellectual  knowledge  of The Uber-Cloud Experiment  teams may become a valuable equity..

Miha:  Do you have ready the report for Phase 1?

Wolfgang; Yes: the Executive Summary is already  our website,  See also the HPC wire article  HPC as a Service: Lessons Learned

Miha: Do you plan to offer this report for free.?

Wolfgang. The detailed 75 pages  report will be available only to our participants.

Burak:  We invite anyone interested in our work to join The Übercloud Experiment and this way , they will have access to all the reports and acquire a first hand experience.

Miha: How important is The Übercloud Experiment in your professional life?

Burak: We do this in our spare time, and we shift the work across time zones Germany (Wolfgang) and I in California. We have no conflicts with our day jobs.. We put money from our own pockets. We are having a lot fun. The enthusiasm of our participants keeps us motivated. The good of this project is the engagement of the HPC people. They come from research and industry,  they are very clear thinkers and easy to work with. The challenge was that we were drinking water from fire hose. We were expecting 10 participants and now we have now 260. It looked like mess, but now we have an organized mess.

Wolfgang: For me, this is definitely the number one excitement project currently. I have other interesting projects, yes,  but The UberCloud Experiment stands out  as a different, breakthrough kind. It has a new technology, a new idea and  we're talking to 260 people in 25 countries. Uber-Cloud Experiment now also conquers the Life Sciences community  It complements nicely my work as  the chairman of  the  ISC Cloud Conference.
Burak Yenier, and Wolfgang Gentzsch 
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