Feeds

Virtualization and HPC - Will they ever marry?

Imaginary-server overhead

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

No time for the virual

HPC workloads are more driven by memory bandwidth, I/O bandwidth, and clock cycles than the typical infrastructure workloads out there in the data center and are therefore not as readily virtualizable. To put it bluntly, HPC labs have enough worries about wringing performance out of their machines and about getting more parallelism into their codes to better take advantage of the increasing number of cores they have in a cluster. They can't deal with virtualization, too.

Virtualization has been a boon to infrastructure servers that were underutilized. A typical x64 server running Web, print, file, and other workloads might run with maybe 5, 10, or 15 per cent of their CPU cycles being used utilized on average. (There are always peaks that spike above that). Hypervisors allow four or five server instances to be crammed onto one single physical server, with the added bonus these days of faster server provisioning and disaster recovery to boot. But in HPC clusters, CPUs are running at near their peaks all the time they are doing work.

But, having said that, system administration is an issue for clusters, just like it is for other servers, and people cost more money than software and iron. Setting up and configuring nodes in the cluster is a pain, and virtualization can help. Think about Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud utility computing setup, which runs atop a tweaked version of the open source Xen hypervisor.

While this EC2 capacity is available on the cheap, it runs in a virtualized mode, and you could argue that one of the reasons it is so cheap is because it is virtualized and hence flexible. It is possible that HPC shops wanting to run distinct applications on different flavors of Linux or a mix of Linux and Windows will use hypervisors allow for this configuring and reconfiguring more easily. But plenty of people are skeptical of the idea.

"The biggest use of virtualization is to allow multiple applications to run protected," explains David Scott, petascale product line architect in Intel's HPC platform unit. "This is potentially an area. Customers are thinking about it, but no one has done it yet."

And the reason why virtualization has not been used in HPC shops is the same one that made server virtualization in data centers take off slowly: server hugging. "The idea of giving a piece of a processor to someone else is completely alien to HPC people," says Scott.

And that is why, for now, server virtualization and HPC will probably remain oil and water - at least as long as there are graduate students and scientists to man the clusters for free or nearly so. Then again, if you shake up things enough, you can get oil and water to make a suspension. Maybe HPC's salad dressing days are ahead. ®

Next gen security for virtualised datacentres

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Advanced data protection for your virtualized environments
Find a natural fit for optimizing protection for the often resource-constrained data protection process found in virtual environments.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Next gen security for virtualised datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.