Forget About the Academy…Meet The Real OSCAR


When MSC.Linux, the open-source solution division of MSC.Software Corp., makes its MSC.Linux V2001 beta version available this April, it will signal a bit of a coming out party for the quiet Open Cluster Group (OCG), an organization of scientists dedicated to make clustering easier for developers.

This is because the MSC.Linux V2001 beta has been fitted with the OCG’s first project, the Open
Source Cluster Application Resources (OSCAR).


Simply, OCG said “everything you need to build, maintain, and use a modest
sized Linux cluster is included in OSCAR.” Developed for experienced cluster
developers, OSCAR 1.0 was launched late February and while the organization
said the OSCAR simplifies cluster building, it is fragile and requires more
Linux system administration expertise — in other words, developers to test
it. And that is why MSC has spearheaded OSCAR’s implementation.


OCG is led by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), the University of
Illinois’ National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA), IBM and
Intel. MSC.Software, a founding member of the team, is the technical lead
for the programming environment. Additional collaborators in the Open
Cluster Group include Dell, SGI and Veridian.


Among its founding principles is the notion that while Linux is progressing,
there is still a lack of well-accepted software stacks that are robust and
easy to use by the general user community” to conduct mainstream
supercomputing. Don’t make the mistake of calling OSCAR a standard; that
implies formality — a no-no in the open-source arena. All software, of course, must be freely redistributed.

The History of the OSCAR

Tim Mattson, a senior research scientist for Intel Corp.’s Microcomputer
Software Laboratory division, told InternetNews.com he would take the blame
for starting the Open Cluster Group. Mattson, who had been working with
clustering since the late ’80s, had been attending supercomputing
conferences and had the kernel of such a group in mind, but he didn’t
realize others shared the same view until 1999.


Upon becoming snowed-in at a clustering conference at Chicago’s Argonne
National Laboratory, he and other conference attendees began talking about
such an open-source group dedicated to clustering.


So, armed with desire and a whole lot of expertise in supercomputing,
Mattson and Stephen Scott, a scientist at Tennessee’s Oak Ridge National
Laboratory, set forth with the group.


“I expected it to be a real controversial meeting,” Mattson explained.
“Because we’re all experts; it’s like when you get a bunch of economists
together who can’t agree on anything.”

Yet no such ego overload materialized, Mattson said.


“There was absolutely none of it,” Mattson said. “We all just really
clicked.”


In April 2000, OCG made its official debut with an early blueprint of OSCAR,
called the Community Cluster Development Kit, or CCDK. In a slide
tutorial
, OCG defined clustering as a “collection of connected,
independent computers that work in unison to solve a problem.”


While this seems like an overwhelmingly positive approach to highly complex
problem solving via computing, the industry has been slow to adapt to the
technology, as OCG said the difficulty of setting up the pieces has resulted
in a lack of commercial support. Oh, that and the fact that the learning
curves are steep.


But Mattson and the rest of the OCG stress that they are not trying to
create a standard — just an approach to supercomputing.


“The CCDK is a snap-shot of best-known-methods for building, programming and
using clusters. It is not a new standard!” OCG states. “It will hopefully
bring some degree of uniformity to clusters, foster commercial versions of
the cluster software, and make clusters more broadly acceptable.”


In fact, before spiraling into technical details for the cluster in this
kick-off tutorial, OCG also took a couldn’t-we-all-just-get-along stance by
pledging its commitment to work together with others, find a common
framework and define a process to reach a well-rounded solution for open
clustering.


That was a year ago this April. And the Linux clustering landscape has
changed quite a bit, according to one analyst.


Don’t Fragment! Can’t We All Just Get Along?


Dan Kusnetzky, a vice president of system software for market research firm
International Data Corporation, said he was familiar with OCG’s stated
goals. He also suggested that its silence relative to actual businesses who
are furiously preparing clustering solutions to market hasn’t helped
industry a bit.


“They clearly aren’t getting the message out that they exist and that
they’re doing something important to the community,” Kusnetzky told
InternetNews.com. “While they quietly work away in the corner, others are
running forward to claim the market opportunity. So, we’re seeing a
proliferation of incompatible solutions from many different companies
appearing rapidly on the scene.”


Kusnetzky is referring to SteelEye and TurboLinux, who have already
announced products, but there are many, many more companies engaging in
Linux clustering.


“Red Hat is making the Linux Virtual Cluster (LVC) software available via
their high availability server product,” Kusnetzky said. “SuSE is doing
something quite similar. IBM is in the process of making some of the
software that has made the SP such a successful product available on Linux
as well. I’m waiting for Compaq to weigh in with their clustering software,
Caldera/SCO to bring out Non-stop clusters for UnixWare on Linux, etc.
Veritas and Legato are also working on porting their HA/clustering software
to Linux.”


In response, Mattson told InternetNews.com Friday that it is not OCG’s
contention to place in the same markets as the Linux cluster developers
Kusnetzky detailed. Mattson said a fundamental difference between OSCAR and
these other applications, such as Red Hat’s Linux Virtual Cluster, is that
OSCAR is not targeted for “high-availability” markets. Rather OCG offers
their solution to select groups of scientists and developers — not just any
potential user.


Kusnetzky’s list of Linux cluster creators then, raises the question then:
are there, as OCG said in their kick-off notes
a year ago, “too many options without clear winners?”


Mattson said there are certainly more now than there was a year ago.


“Our main goal,” Mattson stressed, “is to ensure that we keep the technology
from fragmenting, which is not what some of these companies are doing.”

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