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Ordering nodes on Sherlock#

For research groups needing access to additional, dedicated computing resources on Sherlock, we offer the possibility for PIs to purchase their own compute nodes to add to the cluster.

Operating costs for managing and housing PI-purchased compute nodes are waived in exchange for letting other users make use of any idle compute cycles on the PI-owned nodes. Owners have priority access to the computing resources they purchase, but can access more nodes for their research if they need to. This provides the PI with much greater flexibility than owning a standalone cluster.


Service term#

Compute nodes are purchased for a duration of 4 years

Compute nodes are purchased and maintained based on a 4-year lifecycle, which is the duration of the equipment warranty and vendor support.

Owners will be notified during the 4th year that their nodes' lifetime is about to reach its term, at which point they'll be welcome to either:

  • renew their investment by purchasing new nodes,
  • continue to use the public portion of Sherlock's resources.

At the end of their service term, compute nodes are physically retired from the cluster, to make room for new equipment. Compute nodes may be kept running for an additional year at most after the end of their service term, while PIs plan for equipment refresh. Nodes failing during this period may not be repaired, and failed hardware will be disabled or removed from the system.

Please note that outside of exceptional circumstances, nodes purchased in Sherlock cannot be removed from cluster before the end of their service term.

Shared ownership#

Minimum order of one node per PI

The number of nodes in a shared order must be greater or equal to the number of purchasing PI groups.

For operational, administrative as well as usability reasons, we do not support shared ownership of equipment. Meaning that multiple PI groups cannot purchase and share a single compute node. Shared orders have a minimum of one node per purchasing PI group.

Compute nodes catalog#

Stanford Research Computing offers a select number of compute node configurations that have been tested and validated on Sherlock and that aim to cover most computing needs.

Sherlock catalog

Complete details are available in the Sherlock compute nodes catalog 3


We try to provide hardware configurations that can cover the needs and requirements of a wide range of computing applications, in various scientific fields, and to propose a spectrum of pricing tiers, as shown in the table below:

Type Description Recommended usage Price range
CBASE Base configuration Best per-core performance for serial applications, multi-threaded (OpenMP) and distributed (MPI) applications.
Most flexible and cost-effective configuration
CPERF High-core count configuration Multi-threaded applications requiring higher numbers of CPU cores $$
CBIGMEM Large-memory configuration Serial or multi-threaded applications requiring terabytes of memory (genome assembly, etc...) $$$$
G4FP32 Base GPU configuration Single-precision (FP32) GPU-accelerated applications (CryoEM, MD...) with low GPU memory requirements $$
G4FP64 HPC GPU configuration AI, ML/DL and GPU-accelerated HPC codes requiring double-precision (FP64) and larger amounts of GPU memory $$$
Best-in-class GPU configuration AI, ML/DL and GPU-accelerated HPC codes requiring double-precision (FP64), large amounts of GPU memory, and heavy multi-GPU scaling $$$$
Choosing the best node configuration for your needs

Although some configurations may appear cheaper when looking at the dollar/core ratio, this is not the only point to consider when determining the best configuration for your workload.

Performance per core

There are other factors to take into account, notably the memory and I/O bandwidth per core, which could be lower on higher core-count configurations like CPERF. With multiple times more cores than CBASE, they still provide the same total amount of bandwidth to remote and local storage, as well as, to a lesser extend, to memory. Higher core-count CPUs also often offer lower core frequencies, which combined with less bandwidth per core, may result in lower performance for serial jobs.

CPERF nodes are an excellent fit for multi-threaded applications that don't span multiple nodes. But for more diverse workloads, they don't offer the same level of flexibility than the CBASE nodes, which can run a mix of serial, multi-threaded and MPI applications equally well.

Resources availability

Another important factor to take into account is that less nodes for a given number of cores offers less resilience against potential hardware failures: if a 128-core node becomes unavailable for some reason, that's 128 cores that nobody can use while the node is being repaired. But with 128 cores in 4x 32-core nodes, if a node fails, there are still 96 cores that can be used.

We'll be happy to help you determine the best configuration for your computing needs, feel free to reach out to schedule a consultation.

Configuration details for the different compute node types are listed in the Sherlock compute nodes catalog 3


Prices for the different compute node types are listed in the Sherlock compute nodes catalog 3. They include tax and shipping fees, and are subject to change when quoted: they tend to follow the market-wide variations induced by global political and economical events, which are way outside of our control. Prices are provided there as a guideline for expectations.

There are two components in the cost of a compute node purchase:

  1. the cost of the hardware itself (capital purchase),

  2. a one-time, per-node infrastructure fee1 that will be charged to cover the costs of connecting the nodes to the cluster infrastructure (racks, PDUs, networking switches, cables...)

No recurring fees

There is currently no recurring fee associated with purchasing compute nodes on Sherlock. In particular, there is no CPU.hour charge, purchased nodes are available to their owners 100% of the time, at no additional cost.

Currently, there are no user, administrative or management fees associated with ongoing system administration of the Sherlock environment. However, PIs should anticipate the eventuality of modest system administration and support fees being levied within the 4 year lifetime of their compute nodes.

Purchasing process#

Minimum purchase

Please note that the minimum purchase is one physical server per PI group. We cannot accommodate multiple PIs pooling funds for a single node.

Single-node orders may incur additional delays

Some node configurations need to be ordered from the vendor by sets of 4 nodes (see the Sherlock catalog for details). So orders for quantities non-multiples of 4 need will to be grouped with other PI's orders, which may incur additional delays.

Purchasing nodes on Sherlock is usually a 5-step process:

  1. the PI use the order form to submit an order,
  2. Stanford Research Computing requests a formal vendor quote to finalize pricing and communicate it back to the PI for approval,
  3. Stanford Research Computing submits a Stanford PO to the vendor,
  4. Stanford Research Computing takes delivery of the hardware and proceeds to its installation,
  5. Stanford Research Computing notifies the PI that their nodes are ready to be used.

The typical delay between a PO submission to the vendor and the availability of the compute nodes to the PIs is usually between 4 and 8 weeks.

Supply chain disruption and component shortages

Global supply chain issues and component shortages have considerably increased lead times, and compute node deliveries are currently in the 6-month range.

Required information#

To place an order, we'll need the following information:

  • The SUNet ID of the PI making the purchase request
  • A PTA2 number to charge the hardware (capital) portion of the purchase
  • A PTA2 number to charge the per-node infrastructure fees (non-capital)
    It could be the same PTA used for the capital portion of the purchase, or a different one

Hardware costs could be spread over multiple PTAs (with a maximum of 2 PTAs per order). But please note that the infrastructure fees have to be charged to a single PTA.

Placing an order#

To start ordering compute nodes for Sherlock:

check the Sherlock catalog 3 to review prices and select your configurations


fill in the order form 3 to submit your request and provide the required information


And we'll be in touch shortly!

  1. infrastructure fees are considered non-capital for cost accounting purposes and may incur indirect cost burdens on cost-reimbursable contracts and grants. 

  2. PTA is an acronym used for a Project-Task-Award combination representing an account in the Stanford Financial system. 

  3. SUNet ID required, document restricted to accounts.