Supercomputing Centre deploys Novell for virtualisation

Tools deployed for auto-provisioning and management

The New Zealand Supercomputing Centre, a joint venture between movie-maker Weta Digital and IT services company Gen-i, is using new Novell software and open source to automate the provisioning of computing services.

The new virtualisation management solution went live in the Wellington-based datacentre last week.

The Intel-based supercomputer cluster offers high-performance computing and communications services to customers. Gen-i and Weta Digital opened the centre in 2004 to commercialise the excess computing capacity that Weta had left after the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Gen-i has been working on deploying Novell's new PlateSpin solution for the last eight months, says the company’s service line manager for open source solutions, Steve Osborn.

“We used a mix of open source products to manage the facility — quite successfully — before deciding to migrate to PlateSpin VMM [virtual machine management], or as it was [known] then — ZenWorks Orchestrator Server,” says Osborn.

Novell acquired Toronto-based PlateSpin for US$205 million in February this year. PlateSpin’s software tools, which help manage virtualisation, merged with Novell’s ZENworks Orchestrator and ZENworks Virtual Machine management products for consolidation planning, workload optimisation and disaster recovery.

Gen-i plans to deploy the beta version of the next release of PlateSpin in January to finalise the build, says Osborn.

The reasoning behind migrating to the PlateSpin suite was that the supercomputer centre needed to be able to do auto-provisioning, auto-scheduling and auto-management, says Osborn.

The PlateSpin suite has a number of modules in it, which enable the creation of user-profiles, he says. The suite also takes care of requests for resources from a provisioning or scheduling agent, which manages the process through the creation of an image on a blade.

One of the challenges prior to deploying the new management solution was manual provisioning, says Osborn. Typically, it would take a couple of hours to provision a virtual environment, copy images across, and set up resources and a secure VPN tunnel for each customer, he says.

With the new model, requests for resources can be dealt with much quicker. The administrator can immediately see what capacity is available and can create profiles on the fly. The request is then passed on to a provisioning engine. Information is available on who is using what software, how much resource is being used, and how much storage is used for any one environment, says Osborn.

The new system has been running in production for the last two months, and the provisioning engine is now able to create environments in less than 15 minutes, rather than hours, says Osborn. When fully operational, he expects it will take 10-15 minutes to provision a user environment of up to “a couple of 100 processors”, he says.

While PlateSpin enables sub-dividing — putting multiple customers onto one processor core — the NZSC does not do this, says Osborn. Instead, NZSC provides a core to each user profile, and users can put as many virtual instances as they like on each core.

“So, if you wanted 60 cores, we will load your image over 60 blades, rather than split time-sharing between different cores,” he says.

This means users get more performance out of the processors and better security, he says.

PlateSpin also delivers reporting on utilisation. It has a dashboard built in to it which gives more accurate information on resources, says Osborn.

Gen-i has also deployed an open source virtualised memory management solution — Lustre from Sun Microsystems — alongside PlateSpin to manage allocation and access to a tiered storage solution. The plan is to be able to offer processing, applications and storage on demand, he says. The storage component is currently being tested and is expected to be up and running in the first quarter of 2009.

Gen-i is the only authorised PlateSpin Orchestrator provider in New Zealand, says Osborn.

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