IT Management

The Grid researchers acknowledge that they are building on work from the early days of computer science.

“IBM has the original virtual machine technology dating back to the System 360 in the late ’60s and early ’70s that is still the most well-established virtual machine technology available,” Figueiredo said. “That brought us to consider the zSeries.”

The university plans to integrate the z800 running z/VM, IBM’s advanced virtualization software, a 3.36TB IBM Enterprise Storage Server (code-named Shark) and a 32-node IBM eServer xSeries cluster running VMware and Linux, according to IBM. Scientific research involving terabytes of data will rely on the IBM Enterprise Storage Server.

The Intel machines in the grid can handle the number-crunching involved in experiments, but one area where the IBM z800 shines is in working with huge data files.

“The way we see the zSeries machine being used is for the applications that are more data-intensive, I/O-intensive, rather than computing-intensive,” Figueiredo said. “That’s the major differentiator of the zSeries from traditional Unix boxes as we see it, the high available bandwidth and memory bandwidth for applications that are data-intensive.”

Boyes, who did pioneering research on employing existing IBM technology in Grid systems, explained that scientists today are often working with very large data files.

“A typical nuclear physics experiment generates 150 to 200GB every few seconds,” he said. “If you need to handle a 14TB file, then that’s something z/OS does in its sleep. IBM spent the past 15 years developing management of information on that scale to the point where it is pretty much a science. A remote user can take advantage of that to store enormous files or just manipulate data on a large scale. That’s something the z800 is very, very good at. This is why it’s interesting to keep mainframes in the loop. There are things they are good at.”

Linux and the Grid

IBM’s commitment to Linux, including the implementation on the zSeries, is important to Grid research, which has been based almost entirely on Unix. Linux is seen as having a number of advantages in the scientific community, including the fact that it is open source and it is freely available. Figueiredo pointed out that scientific applications developed over the past 30 years in Unix are already making the transition to Linux.

“Many applications in the Unix environment already have been ported to Linux, including the middleware needed to run many of the applications,” Figueiredo said.

For this very practical reason, Grid computing and the scientific applications that run on it are likely to remain Unix/Linux-based. Grid researchers do not see other operating systems, specifically Microsoft Windows, gaining much traction in the scientific community, at least, at present.

“Doing research in this area and publishing applications that people in the scientific community specifically use, it would not be an easy task for our users to interface with operating systems other than Unix,” Figueiredo explained. “People develop applications in C, C++, Java, or FORTRAN and they expect compilers of the type that you find in a regular Unix box and if you leave that environment it’s difficult to port applications.”

Reliability and the ease with which a Linux system can be managed are additional pluses for using the operating system in the Grid environment. In fact, Figueiredo explained that it would be hard to do the Florida project without Linux.

“From our perspective, without Linux it would be difficult to use existing software,” he said. “The components that are available for doing Grid computing have been developed using Open Grid Services Architecture (OGSA). Having Linux enables us to support this architecture.”

At the bottom line, Linux offers one very important plus for the researchers seeking to get the most out of every dime in their usually tight budgets — Linux is freely available. In addition, as Figueiredo pointed out, the Linux-based system is easy for the university and scientific community to manage with limited professional IT resources and a support staff that is often made up primarily of students and graduate students. Z

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