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Inside Sun's new clusters

Eight-way, dynamic kernel patching

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Sun Microsystems is expected to announce tomorrow the following improvements to its Full Moon clusters: a new home-grown clustered file system, failover to eight nodes as opposed to four, all based on fibre channel, with improvements all round in manageability and failover response times. A few technical showstoppers - such as dynamic kernel patching - are thrown in for good measure.

Sun's relative neglect of clustering in recent years has seen customers use - with Sun's blessing - the Veritas cluster file system. The company will now try to woo them back in-house, with Sun Cluster 3.0. And, notwithstanding your typical smoke-and-mirrors enterprise pricing, it ought to be able to offer more attractive deals - at $3000 per seat, the Veritas option looks expensive.

Bark at the Moon

Full Moon is so called because it makes Wolfpacks howl (Wolfpack was the original name for Microsoft's now rather-modest high availability cluster offerings). However, Sun's clustering capability has lagged far behind Digital (now Compaq) IBM and HP in recent years.

What began life as SPARCclusters - sharing NFS disks over an Ethernet switch - turned into something more ambitious in the mid-1990s. But, mindful of the "single point of failure" jibes levelled against massive SMP boxes, such as Sun's E10000, it's probably time for Sun to show that it does put all its parallel eggs in one basket.

But does the world needs another proprietary cluster file system - when free software projects such as the GFS (GlobalFileSystem), Intermezzo and Lustre are making headway on cheap Linux hardware?

Sun's goals appear to be tactical - feature-matching rivals - rather than strategic. It differs in this respect from the Linux crowd, which clearly has the storage business in its sights. ®

Update: The rumour mill has proved wrong. Sun didn't introduce a new proprietary cluster file system, and left the door open for open source alternatives in the future. Read why here.

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