Clustering reaches adolescence, say backers

Clustering technology has come of age, and the commoditization of compute cycles is just around the corner. At least that’s how the organizers of last week’s ClusterWorld Conference see it. The so-called "cluster summit" drew attendees to the San Jose Convention Center for speeches and product demos that focused exclusively on clustered systems in commercial, research and academic computing.

The emerging clustering technologies promise to link groups of computers, generally servers, to handle variable workloads, to provide continued operation in the event of failures, and to harvest computing cycles.

Jacobus Burr, principal research physicist at Shell International Exploration and Production in Rijswijk, The Netherlands, talked about the future of clustering technologies in general, and specifically in the petroleum industries. He advised attendees to begin thinking of computational resources as commodities.

"The user of these commodities is going to be the most important dominating factor in the global grid," Burr said. "In my view, the grid is a good candidate for infrastructure for distributed computing in our petroleum industry."

Clustering is fast becoming a critical element in the evolution of business intelligence, according to Tilak Agerwala, vice president of systems at the IBM T.J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, N.Y. IBM’s On Demand strategy for flexible e-business computing is a good example of this evolution, Agerwala said.

"What is happening with all of this On Demand and real-time business stuff is that this business intelligence function is starting to get more integrated into the operational functions of the enterprise," Agerwala said.

Another example Agerwala suggested was IBM’s Blue Gene clustering project, which is designed to utilize 64,000 processors in a cluster.

One of the bigger product announcements at the show was IBM’s new cluster server system, which is based on Advanced Micro Devices’ new 64-bit 200 series Opteron chips. The new system uses a dual-processor, rack-mounted server measuring 1.75 inches thick and containing two 1.8GHz AMD 244 Opteron processors. Big Blue’s Opteron-based system uses the same chassis as IBM’s Intel Xeon-powered eServer Cluster 1350 system. IBM designed the system to support large clusters, and says that it will ship in the second half of 2003.

Hewlett-Packard touted its Linux cluster initiatives and products at the show. The Palo Alto, Calif.-based company said that it is making a multimillion-dollar investment in two Linux-based supercomputing clusters running on HP Itanium 2 and ProLiant server nodes at its Scalable Cluster Center in Littleton, Mass. The center supports product development, research by HP scientists and visiting scholars, customer education, ongoing benchmark and scalability demonstrations, and independent software vendor application certification and optimization, the company said.

HP disclosed that that National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) is implementing HP’s Linux cluster systems. Specifically, the NCSA is using a 64-node cluster of Itanium 2-based HP rx2600 servers running Linux to test software, interconnects and compute-intensive scientific applications.

Sun Microsystems demonstrated cluster-ready technologies based on its flagship grid computing software, Sun ONE Grid Engine. Sun showed off the Sun Fire B100s SPARC Blade, and the Sun Fire V60x and Sun Fire V210 Compute Grid Rack Systems. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based company also exhibited its Sun Cluster 3.1, a key component of the SunPlex environment, which is designed to deliver high-availability application services to the data center or enterprise, as well as its SunONE software suite for High Performance Computing (HPC).

Also at the conference, Sun Microsystems announced that MSC.Software plans to integrate the Sun ONE Grid Engine software into its enterprise systems and high performance computing product portfolio. MSC.Software plans to market and support Sun’s platform to help its manufacturing customers reduce the time and costs associated with product development, Sun said.

Intel Corporation showed off its Itanium and Xeon processor-based HPC solutions at the show. The company demoed solutions for the automotive, digital content creation, engineering design, life sciences and financial industries.

About the Author

John K. Waters is a freelance writer based in Silicon Valley. He can be reached at


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