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Cycle Computing Offers $10,000 Cloud Prize in BigScience Challenge

By Kevin Davies 

October 20, 2011 | Building on some positive industry and media response earlier this year to spinning up some hefty clusters in the Amazon Cloud, Cycle Computing is planning to offer $10,000 in free computing time “to help researchers answer questions that will help humanity.” 

Earlier this year, Cycle followed its success in building a 10,000-core cluster for Genentech by using its CycleCloud platform to create a 30,000-core cluster for a leading pharmaceutical company.

As much as he enjoyed the media buzz, Cycle Computing CEO Jason Stowe said the attention on how many cores could potentially be spun up in the cloud left him scratching his head. “I worried that in all this glitter, we would miss what is truly gold,” he writes in a blog post today. “This type of computing can speed up scientific research and solve problems we’d traditionally never dream of tackling.”

Stowe writes: “The problem is, today, researchers are in the long-term habit of sizing their questions to the compute cluster they have, rather than the other way around. This isn’t the way we should work. We should provision compute at the scale the questions need. We're talking about taking questions that require a million hours of computation, and answering them in a day. Securely. At reasonable cost.”

Stowe calls this “utility supercomputing,” namely provisioning supercomputing resources for researchers to use for a few hours as needed. The goal, he says, is to provide “only answers at the speed of thought, at the speed of invention, at the scale of the question.” 

Stowe says he intends “to wreck the status quo of HPC clusters and computational science. We will enable those crazy questions from the misfit geniuses, the ones so big that you would never even ask them.”  

“This is about to get truly exciting… because someone is going to take these clusters and cure cancer, or Alzheimer's, or my personal affliction, type 1 diabetes. And hopefully cure them faster because they have better tools.”

Prize Process 

Stowe has decided to offer a grand prize -- $10,000 of free CycleCloud time + technical support -- to assist a research group address “an un-askable question.” 

After the entry period concludes on November 7, 2011, the Cycle panel of judges will select up to five finalists, based on criteria such as the likelihood of long-term benefit to humanity; originality and creativity; and suitability to running on CycleCloud clusters.  

During the final round, which will take place in early November, the finalists (who will be announced at the SuperComputing 2011 conference) will participate in a web-based meeting to present their research for the judges, before the winner is chosen.  

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