A little more than a week after Microsoft launched its Windows HPC Server 2008, Raleigh, N.C.-based Red Hat Inc. debuted its HPC Solution, Red Hat's first integrated high-performance computing (HPC) cluster package.
The Raleigh, N.C.-based company now offers an operating system optimized for cluster computing on x86, 64-bit hardware for about three years, according to Red Hat's product marketing manager, Gerry Riveros. But HPC Solution offers not only an operating system but also all the components of the stack required for cluster computing, he said, including an installer, job scheduler, cluster monitor and high-speed interconnects, all from Canada-based Platform Computing, he said.
By purchasing Red Hat's cluster-optimized operating system and the Platform Computing tools in a package, customers won't have to source, test and tune each element separately, Riveros said. And when problems arise, they can turn to just one vendor, he added. "Instead of dealing with two different vendors and two different systems, customers can come to Red Hat for everything: technical support, downloads and updates," said Riveros.Democratizing Linux and HPC
The HPC Solution package runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5.2 and Platform Computing's Platform Open Cluster Stack 5. Dell will pre-install it on servers on request and Red Hat expects agreements with other hardware vendors to follow, Riveros said.
Riveros said Red Hat's HPC Solution has a more powerful cluster and management toolset than Microsoft's HPC Server 2008 and is less expensive for a three-year license. In addition, the package is a "great value" for companies struggling to build these systems on their own, he said.
"We are at the top of the cluster benchmarks and better than Windows … and we are more robust and can handle more nodes," Riveros said, estimating 500 as a "comfortable" capacity for one system.
Robin Harris, an analyst with Nashua, N.H.-based Data Mobility Group LLC said that over the last five years the availability of cheap computers have fueled the rapid rise of cluster computing but also created big management problems that "mere mortals" find overwhelming. The new offering is "a move in the right direction," he said.
James Staten, an analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., said Linux is the default platform for new HPC deployments but didn't know which vendor has the largest share.
Meanwhile, Microsoft's HPC performance has been weak to date, creating skepticism in users' minds about its capabilities, especially in scientific facilities like Los Alamos National Laboratory, Staten said. But Microsoft's new HPC offering begins to encroach on Linux's stronghold and could sway businesses without expertise in HPC generally or in Linux in particular to go with Microsoft, particularly those that are already Windows shops and unfamiliar with Linux, Staten said.
"Microsoft couldn't build a big-enough cluster environment and couldn't scale [prior to its new HPC Server 2008]," Staten said. "Both these shortcoming have been addressed with automation, [more robustness] and a simple setup and tear-down," tasks that remain challenges with Linux, he said. For companies moving from workstations or a small cluster, Microsoft's offering is "a big win," he said.
Still, Linux continues to dominate the HPC market, and Red Hat's partnership with Platform Computing, a company that is "well liked," should give Red Hat more credibility in the HPC space, he said. By consolidating cluster functions together, Red Hat's HPC Solution communicates to customers that it is aware of the difficulties in growing and maintaining clusters and will make their task much easier, he said.
"This definitely signals to HPC customers that Red Hat cares about them and wants their business," Staten said.