How does Intel Cluster Ready help?

August 16th, 2010 1:05 pm
Posted by Brock Taylor
Tags: , ,

Last time, I said I'd describe at a high level how Intel Cluster Ready helps address common clustering issues and make HPC clusters more practical and accessible to more people. What was I thinking? Engineers can't write succinctly, but I'll try to stay brief. I also don't want to hide my bias - I do work for Intel, after all - but this program takes aim at knocking down walls that keep HPC at arm's length for many would-be users. I believe it is a win-win approach for everyone.

Here's some specific advantages in terms of the stages:

Stage 1 - Specification: Integrators can design solutions - hardware and systems software - applicable to any application the runs on the interface defined in the specification (found here). Hardware features transparent to the functionality but affecting how well applications execute are abstracted variants of the designs that customers are allowed to customize.

Stage 2 - Integration: Integrators can proceed with testing the design independent of (and ahead of) orders for the design. Design problems get found before solutions hit the floor. At the end of integration is Intel Cluster Ready solution certification demonstrating that the design specified presents the proper interface to the application layer and functions correctly. The design becomes a process for building a solution and the certification is final proof that the process builds the design. Intel provides the Intel Cluster Checker to solutions integrators to help with this step.

Drawing a virtual line around what the solutions integrator does in stage 1 and 2, we define an amount of work required to get a design ready to go to market. Hopefully, the advantage is already clear - this effort only needs to be done once per design! At the end of the day, a process exists to stamp out copies of a design, and that design has a certified and known interface to the application layer. Cluster purchasers choose configurations of the design based on their application needs, but they're freed from having to know what's under the hood.

Stage 3 - Manufacturing: How parts come together is going to be widely variant amongst integrators. However, now there's an identified BOM - hardware and system software - with instructions on how to put the parts together into a known, proven solution.

Stage 4 - Deployment and testing: Deploying a copy of a certified design becomes a canned process. Stage 2 defined the process, and stage 3 delivered the parts. Stage 4 is following the instructions aligned with the method of delivery to the cluster purchaser (methods of delivery: full assembly in factory, full assembly at customer site, anywhere in between). Intel Cluster Checker helps here too. The same tool that was used to certify the design also verifies copies of that design. Now there's a discrete point that defines the deployed cluster is ready to go. Best of all - the tool stays with the cluster and provides immediate and continual checking by the customer that the system is working. Nothing like being able to tell the customer, "as soon as I'm gone, you can run this tool again to see it work for yourself. In fact run it as often as you like to verify system health."

Draw another virtual line around the integrator parts of stages 3 and 4, and you get the repeatable process done once per order. Tie in the customers' needs for application configuration in stage 1 at the point of sale then tie in the proof of system check in stage 4, and you have a streamlined pipeline for cluster orders. Customers don't need to get into the fine points of making and building clusters, and the streamlined approach allows production costs to decrease. Flexible solutions meeting a wide range of needs and at cheaper cost for production and support. Seems like that's a good recipe for growth.

>> See Related Stories for previous articles and more information.

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Author Info
Brock Taylor


Brock Taylor is an Engineering Manager and Cluster Solutions Architect for volume High Performance Compute clusters in the Software and Services Group at Intel. He has been a part of the Intel® Cluster Ready program from the start, is a co-author of the specification, and launched the first reference implementations of Intel Cluster Ready certified solutions.

Brock and others at Intel are working within the HPC community to enable advances and innovations in scientific computing by lowering the barriers to clustered solutions.

Brock joined Intel in December of 2000, and in addition to HPC clustering, he previously helped launch new processors and chipsets as part of an enterprise validation BIOS team. Brock has a B.S. in Computer Engineering from Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology and an M.Sc. in High Performance Computing from Trinity College Dublin.