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[ September 1, 2021 ] NSA Makes Another Cloud Jump with $2B HPE Deal Cloud

Perhaps the National Security Agency (NSA) in the U.S. is over procuring and maintaining some of its on-prem supercomputers.

Over the next decade, the NSA will spend $2 billion on HPE’s GreenLake platform for its high performance computing needs. This investment pales in comparison to the recently revealed $10 billion AWS contract for data storage and ingestion. It could be that the NSA is spreading its risk (and investment) across cloud ecosystems, using one service, like AWS for ingestion and retention while the GreenLake platform handles HPC simulations or AI, for instance.

According to HPE’s HPC and Mission Critical Solutions VP, Justin Hotard, “implementing artificial intelligence, machine learning, and analytics capabilities on massive sets of data increasingly requires high performance computing systems.” He adds that the NSA can now “tackle a range of complex data needs but with a flexible, as a service experience.”

The new service includes a combination of HPE Apollo systems and HPE ProLiant servers, which will ingest and process high volumes of data, and support deep learning and artificial intelligence capabilities. As part of the HPE GreenLake service, HPE will build and manage the complete solution  that will be hosted at a QTS data center, a hosting facility that delivers secure, compliant data center  infrastructure and robust connectivity to support scaling of operations.

The key word here is flexibility. It is not surprising that large agencies with widely varying workloads might want to shake off the inflexibility of systems procured years ahead of emerging trends. For instance, some systems for big agencies are planned as many as three years before ever coming online. As we have seen with the swift rise of AI/ML, much can happen in that short span, leaving agencies with systems that might not provide the right type of compute for where they want to go next.

On the financial side, even though $2 billion might sound like an incredible investment, over the course of the next ten years it is not that far removed from what an agency like the NSA might spend on traditional supercomputers. While there has been clarity on the systems installed at the NSA’s massive Utah datacenter, let’s assume they are on par with some of the U.S. national labs and say each machine is $300 million.

If we assume every three years there is a $300 million system (on average) that eats around one billion in investment over a decade. The savings are not just in the infrastructure spend. Power and cooling, facilities, and of course, the human capital investment can reach the second billion within ten years. There are other more priceless angles here as well. HPE is handling all the backend storage, applications and frameworks, security assurances, and further, it is likely a distributed service for redundancy, something that would be expensive for the NSA to build out physically as well.

Resource flexibility is priceless. Being able to, on a dime, decide to run a massive graph neural network training algorithm then spin that around for serving on machines that don’t need powerful CPUs. Tackling double-precision, dense HPC applications in tandem with low or mixed-precision workloads? That would likely have been difficult on machines procured years ago that might have an older generation GPU on some nodes with majority CPU architectures.

Unlike broad cloud contracts, an HPE GreenLake arrangement will allow the NSA to tailor the backend infrastructure to its mission. HPE provides options for different compute requirements. It can also “add on” as needs change. HPE’s GreenLake platform has targeted platforms for everything from Hadoop-centric workloads, to AI/ML, to SAP HANA, databases, and VDI.

It is for these reasons we expect large agencies, like the NSA, to continue forgoing large supercomputers (except when security is paramount) for the flexibility and managed care of clouds.

The NSA will be giving a greenlight for the GreenLake shift in 2022.

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