Often times the technological advances that hold great potential for the future of computing have arisen from research laboratories and university settings. This appears to again be the case with Red Hat's Extreme Linux Version 1.0.
The product weds the already successful and highly viable Red Hat Linux OS with add-on clustering technology developed at NASA Ames and code-named Beowulf. The combination of Red Hat Linux and Beowulf clustering is potent, but this first release won't yet be enough to storm the corporate gates.
Microsoft has a viable clustering option in its Cluster Server. However, Cluster Server configurations are presently limited to a two-node maximum and designed to support fail-over recovery more than parallel computing.
Also, Oracle has made further strides with its Parallel Server, which addresses both fail-over and parallel computing. But Parallel Server is presently limited to six nodes, though Oracle is testing an expanded number.
The fundamental difference between Oracle Parallel Server and Red Hat's Extreme Linux is that Oracle designed its Parallel Server from a software perspective, whereas the Beowulf project started as a means to combine hardware to produce performance gains. Thus, Oracle's Parallel Server is certified to work only with certain hardware configurations, but takes full advantage of all resources for processing database applications.
Red Hat's Extreme Linux, on the other hand, takes advantage of a wide variety of computing platforms and a theoretically unlimited number of clustered nodes. (A 1000-node configuration is currently being tested.) However, Extreme Linux currently lacks a strong implementation at the application level that might make it a commercially viable solution.
Certain companies, such as The Portland Group and Kuck and Associates, have started to make "parallelising" compilers available to support Extreme Linux. Red Hat also plans to emphasise the application front in its development, company officials said.
This first version of Extreme Linux bodes well for cluster performance, especially in internode communication speeds in distributed environments. The product supports multiple methodologies for building programs for Linux clusters, including the Message Passing Interface, which supports internode communication.
As both the Extreme Linux CD and the Web site warn, the product "requires some assembly" and lacks an automated set of routines for setup and configuration. However, there is plenty of documentation, and you can finally install the system after a rather lengthy process.
The Bottom Line
Extreme Linux, Version 1.0
The combination of Red Hat Linux and clustering technology developed by NASA is a potent solution with enterprise possibilities. The first release is not yet commercially viable for corporate settings, but the technology bears watching as a product with star potential.
Pros: Using existing hardware appeals to the budget-minded; no limit to the number of nodes in a cluster; multiple strategies for intermachine communication; achieves strong performance gains as a parallel- computing environmentCons: Configuration not for the faint-hearted; doesn't yet completely optimise all available CPU resources for parallel processing; limited number of applications take advantage of this clustering technologyPlatforms: Red Hat Linux with Beowulf add-onPrice: $US29.95 on CD from Red Hat Software; free FTP download (http://www.beowulf.org/software/software.html).
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