Tabor Research surveyed the High Productivity Computing user community to complete its first Site Budget Allocation Map, a look at how HPC users divide
and spend their HPC budgets. We surveyed users on their spending in seven top-level categories: hardware, software, facilities, staffing, services,
utility computing, and other. Each category was further divided into constituent subcategories, resulting in 25 unique items included in the analysis.
For any item or category, the respondent had the ability to reply “not in budget” (NIB), meaning that payment for that item or category would not come
out of the HPC budget in question. In these cases, it is possible – in some cases certain – that additional money is being spent out of a different
budget within the organization in support of HPC. For example, several respondents marked items in the facilities category as NIB. In these cases,
it is safe to presume that power consumption is paid for by someone in the organization, but that these costs do not come out of the HPC budget.
Our discussions with study respondents indicate that although not having to worry about finding money for a particular area or item has its good side,
it also has a bad side, and occasionally an ugly one.
The Good – Someone Else’s Money
The good part is fairly straightforward; someone else is paying for something you need. Such categories as buildings and floor space, power consumption,
client computers (i.e. workstations and PCs), and programming support often came out of non-HPC budgets. Interestingly, for those organizations
that had a facilities budget, about a quarter of the respondents did not pay for power or floor space; instead it was covered by the parent organizations.
However, all of these respondents paid for cooling from their budgets. This may reflect the ability of many computer systems to use the standard
power sources at a site, but with non-standard consumption patterns. High-density clusters can consume power at greater rates than originally planned
for the building, and thus produce more heat than the site cooling system was designed to handle. In this case, the cost burden for cooling falls
on the computer owner.
The Bad – Someone Else’s Control
The dark cloud behind this silver lining begins to appear along with the relationship between budget and control. This is a standard organizational
problem. The people with budgets get to make decisions on how those budgets are used, and they are often tasked with supporting multiple competing
subgroups. Control issues tend to be major drivers for smaller organizations to purchase their own computing systems rather than use shared central
The Ugly – Someone Else’s Wall
The clouds get very dark in cases where sites do not have control of budgets items that can limit growth or expansion. The most common cases are associated
with facilities costs. Once the capacity of an existing facility is reached (and computer systems are quite literally run up against someone else’s
wall), major capital investments may be required. These expenses are often borne by the larger organization, but require major efforts by the computer
center management team to justify and compete for the funding. Therefore, facilities costs can be a significant constraint to system acquisition
regardless of whether the cost itemizations show up in HPC budgets.
Conclusion: It’s Never Someone Else’s Problem
In his popular sci fi comedy The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, author Douglas Adams describes a “someone else’s problem field” used to render
objects effectively invisible; no one sees what’s not theirs to worry about. Although not-in-budget may appear to be someone else’s problem, both
site managers and systems suppliers may need to track such items (at least at a high level), be cognizant of the potential impacts these items
may have on operations and growth, and lay the groundwork for times when influencing someone else’s budget becomes necessary.