Today Amazon CTO Werner Vogels announced on his blog that Amazon EC2 has added what it is calling Cluster Compute instances specifically to support the kinds of closely coupled workloads that traditional HPC users often run. This is an important step in growing the relevance of EC2 resources to high performance computing given the (unsurprising) benchmark results that have indicated that Amazon’s traditional highly virtualized servers underperform on these types of applications (lots of writing on this, but see here and here for examples). Vogels acknowledges this in his post
As much as Amazon EC2 and Elastic Map Reduce have been successful in freeing some HPC customers with highly parallelized workloads from the typical challenges of HPC infrastructure in capital investment and the associated heavy operation lifting, there were several classes of HPC workloads for which the existing instance types of Amazon EC2 have not been the right solution. In particular this has been true for applications based on algorithms – often MPI-based – that depend on frequent low-latency communication and/or require significant cross sectional bandwidth. Additionally, many high-end HPC applications take advantage of knowing their in-house hardware platforms to achieve major speedup by exploiting the specific processor architecture. There has been no easy way for developers to do this in Amazon EC2… until today.