Friday Jan 15, 2010

Virtualization for HPC: The Heterogeneity Issue

I've been advocating for awhile now that virtualization has much to offer HPC customers (see here.) In this blog entry I'd like to focus on one specific use case, heterogeneity. It's an interesting case because while heterogeneity is either desirable or to be avoided, depending on your viewpoint, virtualization can help in either case.

The diagram above depicts a typical HPC cluster installation with each compute node running whichever distro was chosen as that site's standard OS. Homogeneity like this eases the administrative burden, but it does so at the cost of flexibility for end-users. Consider, for example, a shared compute resource like a national supercomputing center or a centralized cluster serving multiple departments within a company or other organization. Homogeneity can be a real problem for end-users whose applications only run on either other versions of the chosen cluster OS or, worse, on completely different operating systems. These users are generally not able to use these centralized facilities unless they can port their application to the appropriate OS or convinced their application provider to do so.

The situation with respect to heterogeneity for software providers, or ISVs -- independent software vendors, is quite different. These providers have been wrestling with expenses and other difficulties related to heterogeneity for years. For example, while ISVs typically develop their applications on a single platform (OS 0 above,) they must often port and support their application on several operating systems in order to address the needs of their customer base. Assuming the ISV decides correctly which operating systems should be supported to maximize revenue, it must still incur considerable expenses to continually qualify and re-qualify their application on each supported operating system version. And maintain a complex, multi-platform testing infrastructure and in-house expertise to support these efforts as well.

Imagine instead a virtualized world, as shown above. In such a world, cluster nodes run hypervisors on which pre-built and pre-configured software environments (virtual machines) are run. These virtual machines include the end-user's application and the operating system required to run that application. So far as I can see, everyone wins. Let's look at each constituency in turn:

  • End-users -- End-users have complete freedom to run any application using any operating system because all of that software is wrapped inside a virtual machine whose internal details are hidden. The VM could be supplied by an ISV, built by an open-source application's community, or created by the end-user. Because the VM is a black box from the cluster's perspective, the choice of application and operating system need no longer be restricted by cluster administrators.
  • Cluster admins -- In a virtualized world, cluster administrators are in the business of launching and managing the lifecycle of virtual machines on cluster nodes and no longer need deal with the complexities of OS upgrades, configuring software stacks, handling end-user special software requests, etc. Of course, a site might still opt to provide a set of pre-configured "standard" VMs for end-users who do not have a need for the flexibility of providing their own VMs. (If this all sounds familiar -- it should. Running a shared, virtualized HPC infrastructure would be very much like running a public cloud infrastructure like EC2. But that is a topic for another day.)
  • ISVs -- ISVs can now significantly reduce the complexity and cost of their business. Since ISV applications would be delivered wrapped within a virtual machine that also includes an operating system and other required software, ISVs would be free to select a single OS environment for developing, testing, AND deploying their application. Rather than basing their operating system choice on market share considerations, the decision could be made based on the quality of the development environment, or perhaps the stability or performance levels achievable with a particular OS, or perhaps on the ability to partner closely with an OS vendor to jointly deliver a highly-optimized, robust, and completely supported experience for end-customers.

Thursday Dec 18, 2008

Beta Testers Wanted: Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2

A busy day for fresh HPC bits, apparently...

The Sun Grid Engine team is looking for experienced SGE users interested in taking their latest Update release for a test drive. The Update includes bug fixes, but also some new features as well. Two features in particular caught my eye: a new GUI-based installer and optimizations to support very large Linux clusters (think TACC Ranger.)

Full details are below in the official call for beta testers. The beta program will run until February 2nd, 2009. Look no further for something to do during the upcoming holiday season. :-)


Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2 Beta (SGE 6.2u2beta) Program

This README contains important information about the targeted audience of this beta release, new functionality, the duration of this SGE beta program and your possibilities to get support and provide feedback.

  1. Audience of this beta program
  2. Duration of the beta program and release date
  3. New functionality delivered with this release
  4. Installing SGE 6.2u2beta in parallel to a production cluster
  5. Beta program feedback and evaluation support
  1. Audience of this beta program

    This Beta is intended for users who already have experience with the Sun Grid Engine software or DRM (Distributed Resource Management) systems of other vendors. This beta adds new features to the SGE 6.2 software. Users new to DRM systems or users who are seeking a production ready release should use the Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 1 (SGE 6.2u1) release which is available from here.

    For the shipping SGE 6.2u1 release we are offering a free 30 day evaluation email support.

  2. Duration of the Beta program and release date

    This beta program lasts until Monday, February 2, 2009. The final release of Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2 is planned for March 2009.

  3. New functionality delivered with this release

    Sun Grid Engine 6.2 Update 2 (SGE 6.2u2) is a feature update release for SGE 6.2 which adds the following new functionality to the product:

    • a GUI based installer helping new users to more easily install the software. It complements the existing CLI based installation routine.
    • new support for 32-bit and 64-bit editions of Microsoft Windows Vista (Enterprise and Ultimate Edition), Windows Server 2003R2 and Windows Server 2008.
    • a client and server side Job Submission Verifier (JSV) allows an administrator to control, enforce and adjust jobs requests, including job rejection. JSV scripts can be written in any scripting language, e.g. Unix shells, Perl or TCL.
    • consumable resource attributes can now be requested per job. This makes resource requests for parallel jobs much easier to define, especially when using slot ranges.
    • on Linux, the use of the 'jemalloc' malloc library improves performance and reduces memory requirements.
    • the use of the poll(2) system call instead of select(2) on Linux systems improves scalability of qmaster in extremely huge clusters.
  4. Installing SGE 6.2u2 in parallel to a production cluster

    Like with every SGE release it is safe to install multiple Grid Engine clusters running multiple versions in parallel if all of the following settings are different:

    • directory
    • ports (environment variables) for qmaster and execution daemons
    • unique "cluster name" - from SGE 6.2 the cluster name is appended to the name of the system wide startup scripts
    • group id range ("gid_range")

    Starting with SGE 6.2 the Accounting and Reporting Console (ARCo) accepts reporting data from multiple Sun Grid Engine clusters. Following the installation directions for ARCo and using a unique cluster name for this beta release there is no risk of losing or mixing reporting data from multiple SGE clusters.

  5. Beta Program Feedback and Evaluation Support

    We welcome your feedback and questions on this Beta. Weask you to restrict your questions to this Beta release only. If you need general evaluation support for the Sun Grid Engine software please subscribe to the free evaluation support by downloading and using the shipping version of SGE 6.2 Update 1.

    The following email aliases are available:


Wednesday Nov 19, 2008

Sun Supercomputing: Red Sky at Night, Sandia's Delight

Yesterday we officially announced that Sun will be supplying Sandia National Laboratories its next generation clustered supercomputer, named Red Sky. Douglas Doerfler from the Scalable Architectures Department at Sandia spoke at the Sun HPC Consortium Meeting here in Austin and gave an overview of the system to assembled customers and Sun employees. As Douglas noted, this was the world premiere Red Sky presentation.

The system is slated to replace Thunderbird and other aging cluster resources at Sandia. It is a Sun Constellation system using the Sun Blade 6000 blade architecture, but with some differences. First, the system will use a new diskless two-node Intel blade to double the density of the overall system. The initial system will deliver 160 TFLOPs peak performance in a partially populated configuration with expansion available to 300 TFLOPs.

Second, the interconnect topology is a 3D torus rather than a fat-tree. The torus will support Sandia's secure red/black switching requirement with a middle "swing" section that can be moved to either the red or black side of the machine as needed with the required air gap.

Primary software components include CentOS, Open MPI, OpenSM, and Lash for deadlock-free routing across the torus. The filesystem will be based on Lustre. oneSIS will be used for diskless cluster management, including booting over InfiniBand.


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Josh Simons

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