How would you like a 50,000 core supercomputer at your beck and call? Utility supercomputing company Cycle Computing can make it happen, for a price. The company uses Amazon Web Solutions's Elastic Computer Cloud (EC2), a cloud-computing service that rents cores for remote use. It then adds its own software on top to build a cloud-based utility supercomputer service, which it rents by the hour to anyone that needs it. Last September, the company built a 30,000 core solution, but this latest effort has put it to shame. Cycle's customer this time was Schrödinger, a New York-based pharmaceutical company which needed to test 21 million synthetic compounds for a potential cancer drug. Schrödinger has its own computing cluster, with 1,500 cores, but running the same test on the in-house solution would have taken far too long to be practical.

The entire operation comprised 6,742 computers with a total of 51,132 cores working synchronously, utilizing 58.78TB of RAM, and was completed in under three hours. The price of the research varied per hour depending on how many cores were being utilized, but at its peak performance the cost was $4828.85 per hour. Amazon measures workload in EC2 compute hours, which is roughly equivalent to the CPU capacity of a single 2007 Opteron or Xeon processor. In this case, the workload totaled 109,927 hours, or just under thirteen years. Last year, Cycle ran a competition to give away $10,000 (around eight hours on a 30,000 cluster) of cloud computing to a worthy cause. Seeing off competition from research proposals in the fields of diabetes, Parkinson's disease, and photovoltaic cells, Morgridge Institute for Research's proposal for stem cell research won the prize. We've yet to hear if Cycle is planning another competition this year, but just in case, you'd better get brainstorming for reasons to play around with such awe-inspiring power.