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Big Blue kills off CSM clustering

xCAT king of the HPC jungle

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For a while now, IBM has had multiple and competing tools for managing AIX and Linux clusters for its supercomputer customers and yet another set of tools that were used for other HPC setups with a slightly more commercial bent to them. But Big Blue has now cleaned house, killing off its closed-source Cluster Systems Management (CSM) tool and tapping its own open source Extreme Cluster Administration Toolkit (known as xCAT) as its replacement.

IBM tapped xCAT as its future clustering tool for HPC setups as part of this week's Dynamic Infrastructure blitz, where the company made a number of storage, networking, and systems management announcements. Because there are loads of customers still using CSM on Power and x64 systems, IBM is giving them plenty of warning that CSM is going the way of all flesh.

The xCAT tool was created in 2002 by Egan Ford, a cluster architect at IBM, so the clusters that Big Blue was building for the largest supercomputer centers in the world would have an open source management tool that could image and provision Red Hat Enterprise Linux, SUSE Linux Enterprise Server, or Windows instances on cluster nodes and then give HPC shops a choice of the job schedulers (such as Torque, PBS, Maui, and Moab) to control how jobs are deployed on the clusters as xCAT changes them. IBM put the original xCAT V1 tool out on its alphaWorks experimental software site, and as it grew in popularity, the company decided with xCAT's Version 2 to release the code as an open source project under the Eclipse Public License. (You can see the xCAT project here).

Last September, the handwriting was on the wall for CSM when xCAT - which had been tweaked with Version 2.3 to support IBM's System x, iDataPlex, BladeCenter, and Power Systems boxe - was given official IBM support contracts, and a ridiculously low price (for IBM at least) of $25 per node per year for enhanced support and $60 per node per year for elite support.

CSM was IBM's first attempt to create a cluster management tool that spanned both AIX and Linux, a condition that was forced on Big Blue because of the onslaught of Linux on all HPC installed bases in the late 1990s. At first, CSM was used to manage Linux instances alongside AIX instances on Power-based clusters, and eventually, it was extended to manage Linux instances on x64 rack and blade servers.

CSM was not created from the ground up, like xCAT was, but is rather an offshoot of the company's Parallel System Support Program (PSSP), a cluster management tool that was built specifically for the RS/6000 PowerParallel supercomputers back in the mid-1990s and then deployed on much larger SMP clusters that Big Blue built for the US Department of Energy under the ASCI supercomputer program.

According to a statement of direction put out by IBM, the company will stop selling the Linux versions of the CSM on January 29, 2010. Support will be available for the product until April 30, 2011. Customers who are using CSM to manage non-HPC server clusters, such as data warehouses or parallel transaction processing systems, are being encouraged to move to IBM's Systems Director tool and its VMControl plug-ins to manage the provisioning of physical and virtual servers. (You can see more about these tools, also announced this week, here.

IBM added that while it was mothballing the Linux versions of CSM, it would continue to sell the AIX version of the tool for now and would keep it alive for the currently supported AIX 5.3 and 6.1 releases, including future hardware that comes out and supports those releases, such as the Power7 boxes due throughout 2010. ®

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