In the last decade, the cost of renewable energy has been falling quite dramatically, and it now offers the cheapest form of energy generation of any technology. That is good news for the planet but also for consumers looking to save on their energy bills. For nearly 40 years, RES (Renewable Energy Systems) has been involved in this market, pioneering new ways of generating power. RES, now one of the world’s largest independent renewable energy companies, is active in wind, solar, energy storage, transmission, and distribution. RES has developed and/or constructed over 18 gigawatts of renewable energy, resulting in avoided emissions of more than 19 million tons of carbon dioxide per annum, as of the end of 2019. Catering to clients such as utility companies, investors, and corporate energy buyers, RES offers services relating to the complete life cycle of renewable projects, including development, construction, and operation of renewable assets and energy storage projects, along with integrating wind and solar resources into existing grid infrastructure. This includes climate modeling to determine best geographical locations, negotiating and contracting real estate acquisitions, designing and manufacturing the associated turbines and solar panels, and finally deploying products to location with full grid integration. In this manner, RES serves as the cradle-to-grave implementation arm for clean energy initiatives.
RES originally had been using two compute clusters housed on-premises to support its simulation and modeling needs. But their maintenance costs eventually eclipsed their value as time went on and the pipeline grew. As the company witnessed increasing hardware failures, the risk-reward equation of the cloud grew and grew. RES could read the writing on the wall and recognized this as a growing market opportunity for which it would need greater resource scale to maximize. The company also acknowledged that its ability to simulate and model efficiently was analogous to its market differentiation. Thus, it was quickly determined that any long-term resource utilization strategy needed to be fluid and elastic and scale in alignment to the growing business opportunity—and all signs pointed to the cloud. A cloud mandate was soon issued across the company, and the affected teams started looking for ways to test and evaluate cloud platforms to run their application processes. And since they had already been using Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft 365, and other Microsoft licenses, there was an existing familiarity with Microsoft as a technology provider along with an active subscription in place.
The teams’ first foray into using HPC solutions from the Microsoft Azure Cloud service stemmed from a project on which they were collaborating with the Canada-based renewable energy project firm Nergica. Their partnership evolved from both companies having a deep relationship with the same Canada-based clean energy research lab and learning how they could augment each company’s value proposition and provide better solutions together. One of their site evaluation exercises implied the need for cloud-based infrastructure to fulfill project requirements. Since RES was already consuming site volume licenses for Office and Windows, the company was comfortable with Microsoft and already had a trustworthy business relationship. So, RES contacted its Microsoft account manager to seek assistance for the cloud infrastructure piece of the evaluation.
As a platform provider for which complementary solutions are so critical, Microsoft was eager to support this evaluation. All parties viewed this engagement as an opportunity to validate the scale and speed of Azure in relation to Weather Research and Forecasting Model (WRF) data–based evaluation and analysis. Microsoft thus agreed to provide the business and technical development funding for an evaluation project, and the Azure Batch service (a solution for running large-scale parallel batch jobs) was used initially to provide application-level cloud bursting to the WRF processes. This model seemed the least disruptive, since RES could continue using the same applications and front-end integrations while starting to capitalize on cloud scale and on-demand usage for big processing jobs.
It wasn’t very long before the value of this cloud evaluation project was realized in magnitude. As such, RES implied its interest in moving the entire project from a test/evaluation deployment to a full commercial production environment. Microsoft elected to bring into the project a leading United Kingdom–based independent HPC consultancy: Red Oak Consulting. Well-versed and highly experienced with both HPC and cloud services, Red Oak Consulting was commissioned to take the lead in the HPC migration to the cloud project, working closely with all parties. Initially, Red Oak Consulting analyzed RES’s evaluation environment, strategizing the most effective way to graduate into a longer term, more permanent fixture for the RES service portfolio. Working with stakeholders from across the varying strategic areas of RES, Red Oak Consulting scoped out the exact requirements and functionality required to ensure that the Azure cloud solution was fit for all purposes. It was concluded that RES would get greater value from the cloud if the company scaled its entire WRF computing environment itself, as opposed to just the application processes. Through the use of the Azure CycleCloud service, Red Oak Consulting mirrored the existing RES cluster configuration in Azure to deliver the speed and scalability required by RES. Red Oak Consulting also optimized existing HPC workloads, ensuring that cost efficiency would be maintained with this new and dynamic HPC cloud solution.
“It’s opened up a whole lot of opportunities for us which we hadn’t had available before, and it’s making us think about things in an entirely different way.”
“Through the migration of HPC to Microsoft Azure, RES was able to achieve greater results whilst giving their people greater empowerment.”