ScaleMP pools x86 servers to vie with high-end systems and clusters

ScaleMP's vSMP aggregates x86 servers into a high-end system, replacing hard-to-manage clusters and costly high-end systems.

Cupertino, Calif.-based ScaleMP has developed new symmetric multiprocessing (SMP) software called vSMP Foundation Standalone that aggregates x86 servers into one high-end system using virtualization, taking the place of hard-to-manage clusters and expensive high-end systems, according to proponents.

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The software targets users that need at least a few hundred gigabytes of memory for large applications but don't have the budget for large systems or the management resources for clustering, said Shai Fultheim, the CEO and founder of ScaleMP. By contrast, ScaleMP's incarnation of clustering -- vSMP -- pools several machines together to gather memory and power without these management hassles and cost burdens.

"Clusters are not very expensive but require a lot of management and provisioning. Large systems are … very expensive," said Fultheim. "Pooling many machines together means you are using all of their memory and CPU power. What we provide is the best of both worlds without the expense or management issues," said Fultheim.

Virtual SMP architecture
In 2003, ScaleMP began designing virtualization for high-end computing with its architecture, Versatile SMP (vSMP). The new vSMP Foundation Standalone software is based on vSMP architecture and complements vSMP Foundation Embedded, which has been on the market for 18 months and can utilize up to 16 x86 systems to create a single shared-memory system with between four and 32 processors (or up to 128 cores) and up to 1 TB of RAM.

Clustering has traditionally been a problem for IT.
Jeffrey Hill,
senior research analystAberdeen Group Inc.

The vSMP Foundation Standalone software requires two quad- or dual-core Intel Xeon 5400 or 5200 series 45-nanometer processor-based servers connected through InfiniBand to create a four-socket platform for less than $10,000.

Here's how it works; to create a 16-socket system, bundling eight InfiniBand-based x86 systems together, you would plug a ScaleMP USB stick into each server. When systems boot up, ScaleMP's proprietary software is inserted between the motherboard and the operating system, enabling a virtual machine (VM) to communicate between similarly enabled servers using InfiniBand. A VM synchronizes all the system components and there is one unified OS environment running on top of it all, said Fultheim. Further, the OS applications do not know or care where their processing resources reside, as ScaleMP makes all of this transparent and agreeable, explained Mike Kahn, the managing director at the Wellesley, Mass.-based Clipper Group.

Clear benefits, but what about tradeoffs?
"ScaleMP can extend the memory space without incrementing the number of processors on which the application runs, potentially increasing the performance of the application without increasing the application software cost," said Kahn. "It is an approach worth considering as a cost-lowering vehicle, in terms of server costs, software costs, and administrative costs."

Jeffrey Hill, a senior research analyst in the data management and storage practice at the Boston-based technology research firm Aberdeen Group Inc., said that ScaleMP's technology is "disruptive in its potential appeal, much as virtualization once was," Hill said.

"Clustering has traditionally been a problem for IT; it can be difficult to set up clusters and fine-tune and has traditionally been expensive to buy clustering," Hill said. "What is particularly great about ScaleMP concept is that they use [x86] servers as their platform, which means that the cost to implement is lowered substantially from traditional clustered systems."

In addition, "[x86 servers] can be upgraded with faster processors and faster memory at a much lower cost than larger systems," Hill said.

Using ScaleMP software, is there a tradeoff in pool compute resources? It uses about 130 MHz of processing per cycle – so users see a performance hit of less than 5%, Fultheim said.

ScaleMP's software supports InfiniBand instead of 10 gigabit Ethernet (GbE) because, Fultheim said, 10 GbE is significantly more expensive and isn't as widely used as InfiniBand – at least when the company began creating the software. Fultheim said that ScaleMP will support 10 GbE when it becomes mainstream as well as any other I/O architectures..

Kahn said ScaleMP's software is appropriate for applications that do well with shared memory architectures, like database management systems. Systems based on the ScaleMP's vSMP products are installed in manufacturing, energy, life sciences, and financial services industries and are certified by major Linux providers.

ScaleMp is not without competition, of course. Another player in the space is Lowell, Mass.-based Virtual Iron Software, Inc., whose software for server partitioning for single and multi-server configurations.

The vSMP Foundation Standalone is available through value-added resellers and system integrators, with the price starting at $2,750. For ODMs and OEMs, the price varies based on system configuration.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Bridget Botelho, News Writer.

Also, check out our at Server Virtualization blog.

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