LINUXWORLD: Clusters to benefit from 64-bit Intel chips

The arrival of next-generation Itanium chips from Intel will take Linux clustering to a whole new level, according to Songnian Zhou, the CTO of Toronto-based Platform Computing Inc.

During a panel discussion titled "Clustering for High-Performance Computing" here at LinuxWorld Thursday, Zhou said that "by default, the majority of future computing environments will be Linux clusters," a trend that will be driven "especially when 64-bit commodity chips from Intel arrive."

Those 64-bit commodity chips will be Intel's McKinley processor, a second-generation Itanium chip and the first fully mature 64-bit chip of the Itanium family. McKinley is expected to launch later this year, according to Intel.

Much of the success of Linux in running clustered server environments will be based on how well the open-source operating system performs on inexpensive, commodity chips from Intel, Zhou said. Because server clusters can be scaled out to thousands of server nodes, having an OS that runs well on inexpensive components such as Intel chips makes sense to the bottom line, he said.

"Linux makes it affordable to have very large systems because you can use commodity components," Zhou said.

Itanium chips, such as McKinley, support Linux code and can process data twice as fast as Intel's established line of 32-bit processors, meaning 64-bit Intel chips will bring even greater processing power to Linux clusters, Zhou explained.

Moderating the discussion, Debra Goldfarb, group vice president of worldwide systems and servers at IDC in Framingham, Mass., cautioned that although Intel chips do yield savings in clustered environments, the sheer mass of a large server cluster presents management challenges that bring their own expenses.

"There is still an inherent cost to this environment. We don't want anyone to get the wrong expectation of what it costs to deploy [a clustered Linux] environment," Goldfarb said. "You'll have a more efficient and more scalable environment [with a Linux cluster], but there is still overhead."

Goldfarb said Linux server clusters built by scientific and research institutes can be as large as multiple thousands of server nodes, but the average size Linux cluster in the industry today runs about 50 to 75 server nodes.

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