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November 20, 2012

Grid Software Creates Virtual Windows Supercomputer

Tiffany Trader

What if you could combine the benefits of virtualization, grid and cloud computing to accelerate Windows-based applications? An Israeli company, Xoreax, is doing just that. We spoke with Xoreax at SC12 in Salt Lake City, Utah, last week to learn more about their offering.

Xoreax got its start back in 2002 and for the last 10 years, they’ve been accelerating software in the Windows environment, using distributed, aka grid, computing technology. Their IncrediBuild-XGE (Xoreax Grid Engine) software uses a unique technology called process level virtualization to create a virtual HPC machine. The software harnesses unutilized CPUs to create a private grid. It runs on a company’s existing Windows infrastructure and extends into the public cloud if more resources are required.

Typical server and CPU utilization rates are notoriously low; IncrediBuild finds all that spare compute capability and exposes it.

“It’s like having virtual HPC – every workstation in this network can scale out to tap into the amount of resources that is in the entire network,” says CTO Dori Exterman.

“We have an agent in every machine and create a private grid out of all these machines and can also scale out to the cloud. The solution is currently Windows-only, and there aren’t many Windows solutions for this kind of cycle scavenging.”

Unlike other grid and virtualization solutions, IncrediBuild works out of the box. Traditional grid solutions require the user to change the source code and target an API. This extra work makes sense for very demanding applications like real-time financial trading, but Xoreax is targeting more general-purpose workloads that are also process-intensive.

The solution combines grid and virtualization, but instead of virtualizing entire machines like VMware does, the technology virtualizes a single process.

“We can take a process and virtualize it on the network. When the process needs some files from the local machine, the software acts like a middleman between the process and the operating system and we can take all that environment that the process requires on demand from the initial machine, cache it on the remote machine and give the process everything it needs in order to work on the remote machine,” explains Exterman.

“The process does not care where it’s running because we will create all the environment for it. You don’t need to install any software on the remote machines,” he adds.

Traditional HPC usually requires costly investments of time and resources in hardware, training and expertise, whereas process virtualization leverages the customers own resources. Potential customers are interested in ease of implementation and integration and they don’t want to be vendor-bound, the CTO notes, adding that integration takes less than an hour and requires only a small 2-line xml file.

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Perhaps owing to Xoreax’s niche as a code-build accelerator, the company is not that widely known despite healthy deployment numbers. Over 100,000 users from some 50 countries rely on XGE-based products, and customers include big-name corporations like Cisco, NVIDIA, Google, Microsoft, eBay and IBM.

Under the OEM model, a software vendor integrates with IncrediBuild-XGE and then provides the product to their end users. One such example is the large diamond grading outfit Sarin, which uses the software to accelerate diamond analysis for tens of thousands of customers. Instead of running all the simulations on a single dedicated server they can scale out across all their in-house resources and into the cloud. With the XGE client, Sarin has achieve a 20x speedup in system performance. The time required for complex analyses has shrunk from 40-60 hours down to 2-4 hours, while simpler 1-2 hour analyses now complete in 10-15 minutes.

As with most grid or cloud solutions, IncrediBuild is intended for applications that are compute-intensive as opposed to I/O-intensive. It’s well-suited for computational tasks that take a lot of time, such as batch processing or near real-time. Gaming, financial services and manufacturing are some key verticals.

While early use cases revolved around computation acceleration, the software development space has evolved into their main customer base. IncrediBuild reduces the time of many development environment tasks, including code analysis, unit testing, QA script, stress tests and code verification. The company states it is the most popular off-the-shelf accelerator for Visual Studio code builds.

Another interesting IncrediBuild-XGE use case is the follow-the-moon scenario, where two manufacturing centers located in opposite hemispheres distribute their resources to balance workloads.

On the OEM side, IncrediBuild-XGE has added support for GPUs. This capability offers a lot of potential to engineers working with graphics-intensive workloads, like rendering or CFD. Running an application on a remote server with a dedicated discrete GPU can take minutes instead of hours versus running on a local workstation with an on-board GPU.

IncrediBuild-XGE is compatible with virtually any IaaS offering. Because the engine works with VMware, it runs everywhere you can mount a machine and have VMware run it as part of your subnet. During times of high demand, users can add virtually unlimited resources to their IncrediBuild grid.

On the subject of competition, both the CEO Eyal Maor and the CTO respond that the process virtualization technology is unique and that there aren’t really any comparable offerings. When I inquire about Windows-based grid vendor Digipede specifically, they acknowledge the similarities, but state that they “don’t run into them.”

As for their future roadmap, Xoreax doesn’t want to reveal too much, but the company hints at several announcements that are coming down the pike that could significantly expand their user ecosystem, including plans around Linux and tablets.

Xoreax offers separate pricing terms for its OEM and off-the-shelf products. The cost of the OEM version is negotiated on a per-customer basis, while the off-the-shelf pricing is per agent and based on the total number of cores that the agent is using. The company also offers different product packages, depending on the type of acceleration desired. Interested users can download a trial license, which gives them a chance to kick the tires and decide if the solution is right for them.