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April 20, 2010

Adaptive’s Moab Enhancements Beckon to Wall Street

Nicole Hemsoth

Adaptive Computing, creator of the widely-employed cluster of Moab technologies, which includes Moab Adaptive HPC Suite (along with similar suites for cluster and grid environments), just announced two interconnected pieces of Moab news targeting the vast infrastructural and resource management needs of the financial services industry.

The release of Moab 5.4 coupled with the new component brand, Moab Viewpoint 1.0, will allow end users on the commercial enterprise side — specifically financial services — the enhanced ability to get out from the heavy hardware and complex software demands of daily operation and make a smooth transition into the world of private clouds. The dual launch produces the “automated delivery of IaaS and Paas based on application workloads,” according to the company’s news release yesterday morning.

White Spaces in Private Clouds for Financial Services

While its work in the HPC sphere is similar in function to what the company announced, the capability of the newest version of Moab has been greatly expanded in hopes that the relatively small company can experience greater recognition from Wall Street. The release of Moab 5.4 adds a host of enhancements to the existing version that will be important to Adaptive Computing’s ideal end user base — the financial services sector.

Aside from being the center of worldwide economic activity, of course, there are other contributing factors to Adaptive’s decision to bring private clouds to financial services, not the least of which is the need for these enterprises to consolidate and effectively manage increasingly costly resources. Resource management is often cited as one of the missing pieces in effective business strategy in the cloud — whether in a public, private or hybrid space — and few firms offer comprehensive and automatic processes for monitoring, provisioning and supporting this critical aspect in a large-scale, data-intensive environment.

According to Peter ffoulkes, vice president of marketing at Adaptive Computing, this emphasis on the financial services is certainly not random. ffoulkes states,

“Financial markets do both HPC and commercial work and tend to be at the leading edge of creating new architectures. Also, due to the economic meltdown and mergers, they’re all under a lot of pressure to get everything in order to deliver new services fast and competitively. A lot of our enhancements were driven by this sector, but we should also note that there are others with similar needs, including the oil and gas industry, and the telecommunications sector. There’s a large spread of markets, but financial services is at the leading edge of innovation, of moving beyond IaaS into true workload-driven cloud platform as a service.”

While ffoulkes states that the financial services industry could benefit from the expanded host of offerings for commercial enterprises in the newly-released 5.4 version, the emphasis on continuous innovation and the complex needs and scale of their data operations makes this market the ideal candidate. Adaptive Computing’s range of technologies seem suitable for industries with similarly complex workflow operations, provisioning issues, and other demands of a mission-critical enterprise, including the oil and gas industry as well as telecommunications enterprises.

Direct Details on Moab 5.4 Enhancements for Commercial Enterprise

Given the scope of the announcement, which was actually a double-sided release about Moab 5.4 and Moab Viewpoint 1.0, it seemed best to allow ffoulkes to do the talking about core enhancements. In an interview shortly before the full release of the announcement, he stated:

We’ve been working on what we think of Cloud 2.0. It’s a workload-driven cloud, which is the underpinnings of what HPC is doing, even if it’s not recognized. It’s corporate-capable workload-driven cloud. We’ve built in the robust support of these dynamic transactional workflows that don’t happen in the HPC sphere and robust support for virtualized environments (VMware, for instance).

We’ve got all of this functionality and with the waxing and waning of commercial enterprise, but as services slow down and you start changing things and everything comes to an end, suddenly you have virtual machines standing still everywhere with spare capacity. If you’ve got hundreds or thousands of servers as a human being, you simply cannot monitor all of them — but automated software like Moab can. By monitoring through the nervous system influences you get from xCAT or the HP tools for instance, we can look at it and say, there is a lot of inefficiency so let’s pack and consolidate these virtual machines onto a single server using live migration (if the underlying technology like VMware supports it) or until a process is finished which means we can pack things down and reprovision — or, if they don’t need it at all — we can power those systems down and bring them back to life later when they’re needed either with the same, different or a mix of personas and can save energy.

We’ve also introduced enhanced support for virtual private clouds so when you have a user that comes in with a desired environment, if it’s going to exist for a period of time he may need more or fewer resources, so we can expand and contract those things in demand — support fluctuations in workflow. We can also migrate them; if you have a short-term virtual cloud and you’ve assigned resources for it but have planned maintenance coming up then we can look at that and can plan to migrate those virtual private cloud resources to different physical resources; we can bring down 10% of the cluster and do what we need to do during that planned maintenance.

We have also been working on internal algorithms for better memory efficiency so when we’re supporting things like Iaas, Moab 5.4 is vastly more efficient than its previous version. In our testing we’ve been able to show that we can support IaaS and virtual private cloud environments ten-fold over the previous version — huge efficiencies. Most of these things are aimed at the commercial end, these all have an impact on HPC as well.

In the move toward cloud-type work, in the past most of the Moab control on the backend has been on command-line interfaces and on the front end, a Java-based Moab access portal. We’re moving to a web 2.0 technology and we’re introducing a new component brand (not a product) called Moab Viewpoint, which is our Web 2.0 portal-based technology which enables self-service portals for users and supports administrative portals on the backend. This will enable users to come in with a customized, personalized home page, create and manage virtual private clouds, select services from a virtual shopping cart, add and remove resources, if they want a private cloud they may want for the short-term and may want again later they can archive it and open it again later. We can also manage both physical and virtual servers so if we get amber light problems, we can look at that and remove the troubled entities from the virtual private cloud and reroute until we can fix it.

Hence the Switch to “Adaptive”

Cluster Resources wanted to get out from its name to avoid typecasting since there is no question its original company logo all but screamed HPC-exclusive. The “Adaptive” part of the name, however, does not necessarily refer just to the technology itself that adapts workloads and resources to create an optimal environment on demand, it also refers to the existing or preferred infrastructure and middleware — or, as Peter ffoulkes terms it in the extended quote below, Moab is “agnostic.”

One of the reasons why Adaptive Computing has had success in major HPC ventures such as South Africa’s Center for High-Performance Computing (CHPC) is because of this agnosticism, but it is also this cross-vendor possibility that is making Adaptive more attractive to commercial enterprises who want more compute power in a way that is cost-effective and scalable. Says ffoulkes:

“We’ve suddenly seen this interest from commercial enterprise for what we can do. The market for commercial enterprise is building infrastructure that looks like supercomputers but since Moab is just the ‘brain’ we are agnostic to the underlying middleware and infrastructure.”

As an infrastructure and middleware-agnostic technology, Adaptive has been able to work with a number of companies that might have otherwise sealed themselves from other vendors. This has allowed the company to maintain a competitive edge and to align themselves with strategic partners. Ffoulks stated:

We can work with what customers have today (whether it’s one architecture or 20) — we can work with what they wish to move to in the future (migrating or remaining) and can work across different vendor platforms. If they have multiple vendors, mergers, or acquisitions we don’t have to rip out what they have and replace it with it with ours. That makes us good for our partners; we can work with HP — whether its their provisioning or management tools in the HPC world or its things like HP technology optimiziation groups. We can work with x-cat or Tivoli or Voltaire’s unified fabric management software. We can work with resource managers, homegrown and open source — so long as people are willing to write an interface between their architecture and theirs, this has made us very agile and vendor agnostic and very partner-friendly.

Moab Viewpoint 1.0 and “Cloud 2.0″

Although it might be tempting to call Moab Viewpoint 1.0 a new product from Adaptive Computing, this is actually what ffoulkes calls a “component brand” as it is an extension on what already exists. He goes on to note:

In the past most of the Moab control on the backend has been on command-line interfaces and on the front end, a Java-based Moab access portal. Viewpoint 1.0 is our Web 2.0 portal-based technology that enables self-service portals for users and supports administrative portals on the backend. This will enable users to come in with a customized, personalized home page, create and manage virtual private clouds, select services from a shopping cart, add and remove resources, and if they want a private cloud they may want for the short-term and may want again later, they can archive it and open it again later.

Visibility and the Future of Moab in Financial Services

Moab technologies have been employed to solve an array of problems in HPC since the company’s beginnings (again, as Cluster Resources) and were picked up enthusiastically in high-end computing environments.

Since it makes it possible for enterprise to look into the future and determine workloads and placements, Moab became what ffoulkes calls, “very much a decision-making engine — not only to help determine how to get maximum efficiency out of the system, but to manage service-level agreements (SLAs), make sure the right results were delivered to the right person at the right time, make sure the right projects got the highest priority on the right systems and the right highest bandwidth networking or whatever it was. You got fair share, but you also got preemptions; so, for instance, if something came up that was critical, something else could be banked and items could still be fitted around — so that’s how the whole thing grew.”

From its inception (first as Cluster Resources, until a recent shift in focus from strict HPC to commercial enterprises), the company has focused on finding predictive, intuitive resource management strategies for some of the world’s most notable supercomputing facilities. As Peter ffoulkes notes, despite the company’s relatively small size, Moab — the brand name of the product family for the main technology Adaptive Computing brings to market — controls 10 out of 20 of the largest computing facilities in the world, according to the TOP500. This includes the top three (Oak Ridge National Labs, IBM Roadrunner at Los Alamos, and the University of Tennessee center).

Since more commercial enterprises are looking to create superinfrastructure modeled on HPC and cloud computing, is it possible that Adaptive’s entry into this market signals a new era for large-scale enterprise resource management and private cloud adoption?