HP plans turn-key clustered offering

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) is readying a new line of turn-key high performance Linux cluster products for release at the Linuxworld Conference and Expo in San Francisco this August, a company executive said this week.

The systems, which will be called HP XC Clusters, will be based on both Xeon and Itanium microprocessors and will come in a variety of standard configurations designed to simplify the job of setting up and supporting a Linux cluster.

“We are working on building our portfolio to include preassembled and preconfigured cluster systems,” said Alanna Dwyer, HP’s Linux Marketing Manager for High Performance Technical Computing division at HP. “These are going to be some of HP’s first products that are verified and certified solutions, that are already tested and are quick and easy to buy,” she said.

HP hopes that the new systems will open the clustering market to a wider range of corporate users who may not have the in-house expertise to set up a custom Linux cluster.

High performance Linux clusters were originally designed as a way of providing cheap and powerful computers for researchers and academics, but they have recently been embraced by the commercial world, where they are now being used for a growing range of number crunching applications including automotive simulation, petroleum exploration, and genetic sequencing.

The XC clusters will come in a variety of configurations, supporting anywhere from 16 to 256 Xeon or Itanium 2 nodes, HP said.

HP has already begun certifying high performance clustering software from a variety of third parties, including Scyld Computing Corp, Scali AS, MSC Software Corp., as well as the free National Partnership for Advanced Computational Infrastructure (NPACI) Rocks cluster distribution.

Because clustered systems are typically put together by highly technical users in a variety of different ways, they have created a kind of moving target for independent software developers, said IDC analyst Dan Kusnetzky. Some sort of standard clustered system could make life easier for developers, he said, provided it was built on open standards. “Having some kind of uniform platform that everybody’s agreed to would be beneficial. That’s the foundation needed to build a market,” he said.

Throughout the summer, HP will be working with customers and partners to build these and other applications into a number of turn-key cluster products, the first of which will be announced at LinuxWorld in August.

“We’re taking a lot of the expertise that we’ve had in clusters, and bringing that over to a Linux platform to really bring Linux clustering capabilities to a commercial enterprise,” said Dwyer.

One system engineer who has worked with HP on an 87-node high performance cluster at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory called HP’s high performance Linux offerings “a step in the right direction.” The engineer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that HP has made great strides in the last few years, particularly by simplifying the set up and the management of its Linux clusters.

The cluster file system software, for example, that HP uses relieves a lot of the drudgery of changing configuration files across all of the nodes of the Lawrence Berkeley cluster, he said. “If you change a file, that change is automatically propagated across the system,” he explained. “It actually starts simplifying the system,” he said, “because you move the complexity from the operator to the operating system.”