HPC & Virtualization

Interesting how opinions are starting to change about the use of virtualization in HPC. In High Performance Computing, users often try to use an entire physical server, or many servers for that matter, to solve a single problem. Initial uses of virtualization were to enable users to combine many different programs, each running in their own virtual environment, on a single physical server. Several years ago, one of the top HPC researchers at San Diego Supercomputer Center that I was working with predicted that within 18 months we would see widespread use of virtualization in HPC. Not because HPC problems would require less than a full server, but because the continued proliferation of different Operation System versions would require large university HPC centers to use virtualization to efficiently support multiple operating systems running on the same physical server.

Well, what a difference a few years makes. Microsoft announced this week that their Hyper-V Server 2008 would be available as a no-cost download within 30 days. Who would have thought you would see free server software from Microsoft? Meanwhile, in Boston, where I am this morning after an overnight flight, leading proprietary virtualization vendor VMware announced their co-founder was resigning to return to academia, the West coast, and Stanford University. Just in time for winter no less. I guess he didn't take it very well when parent company EMC fired his wife, ex VMware CEO Diane Green, earlier this year. Sort of hard to run a business when Microsoft starts competing by giving away your major product for free.

However, in the HPC space, you see precious little use of either Hyper-V or VMware, at any price. HPC researchers, long at the forefront of open source, have chosen instead to focus on open source virtualization platforms. Hence my excitement about the pending launch tomorrow of the Sun xVM Virtalization Portfolio. Some of the largest HPC sites in the world are already using xVM Ops Center software to manage their HPC clusters, like the Texas Advanced Computing Center. With the Sun xVM Server, HPC centers small and large will be able to manage their cluster with xVM Ops Center, and use xVM Server to virtualize Linux, Solaris, and Windows guest operating systems running on their cluster. No more long committee meetings deciding which Linux kernel to run or how many hours a year that Microsoft funded researcher can get access to the cluster to run Windows. For that matter, advanced programmers writing multi-threaded code with OpenSolaris can run on the cluster too with xVM.

A great place to find out more about HPC and virtualization will be Sun's upcoming HPC Consortium user group meeting, held prior to SC08 this November in Austin, Texas. Rumor has it HPC Consortium members might even get a special tour of a famous nearby HPC center.

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