by Christopher Rogala, Assistant Editor, HPCwire
As part of HPCwire’s expanded Linux coverage during the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in New York City, we spoke Wednesday with Dave Gelardi, IBM’s Director of Deep Computing, about the role of Linux in the changing world of high performance computing. The following is a transcription of that interview:
HPCwire: The popularity of Linux systems seems to have taken off relatively suddenly. Why Linux and why now?
GELARDI: I think, you know, in some sense it’s been going on for a while. I think what’s happened is that we’re seeing it sort of move into the mainstream. I do a little test with CIOs in briefings all the time and I sort of ask them “Do you have any Linux deployments?” and they generally say no. But then his lieutenants in the room typically, you know, sort of kick each other under the table and look at their shoe-tops. And then the next thing you find out that there’s been a number of sort of pilot deployments going on in the enterprise. So I think what’s happened is that the experimentation and testing has been going on ever the last several years and now all of a sudden as we, we IBM and others in the industry, are being more public about customers that are actually doing it, they’re saying, you know what, it’s o.k. to do Linux, it’s a good thing, it’s got, you know, the kind of capability that we need for certain classes of applications. So I think what’s happening is we’re seeing a crossover from this early adopter phase to this early majority phase and I think it’s fueled, in part, by the promise of a globally available operating system, lots of underlying technologies, software vendors are stepping up, services companies are stepping up — so I think it’s a whole lot of factors that are all coming together at the same time.
HPCwire: To what previous development in computing can you compare the development of Linux, in terms of significance?
GELARDI: I cannot think of a technology that had all the same similarities, although I would point to the early emergence of UNIX as a, at least at the operating system level, as being quite similar from the vantage point of a promise of broad applicability and broad availability. Of course, what’s fundamentally different about Linux is that it’s a community-based development activity. And I’ve heard it said a number of different ways, but, you know, the way to think about it is the best and brightest in the entire industry are working in the open to develop an operating system that’s not owned by any given company and it is a, the term that I’ve heard which I really like is that it’s a “brutal meritocracy” in terms of the way in which code is examined.
I think the most analogous computing technology was really the emergence of e-business, in so far as it being a disruptive technology to what customers had been previously doing. You know, you might say that client-server computing was a similar trend, although none of them look the same as the way we see Linux.
HPCwire: What, if anything, makes Linux especially suitable for supercomputing?
GELARDI: Probably the thing that makes it most suitable, and why supercomputing in particular, is that the characteristics of the user in a supercomputing environment is that he has ownership of his own code, and then he takes his code and runs it on a variety of different machines. The advantage of Linux is that since Linux is available on Intel, and it will be available when I64 delivers, and it’s available on Alpha, and it’s available on RS6000 or Power, and, you know, on and on, that as a researcher I can take my code, optimize it to the Linux operating environment, and all the advantages that come to my application are sort of immediately available to me and I don’t have to port code from operating system to operating system. So it gives me more flexibility.
You know, you think about the way researchers run codes is that they look for sort of project sponsorship at nationally funded supercomputing centers. And they move their, sort of, research around to the place that can give them the best scalability or the most data or the largest problem sizes or the fastest turnaround. So that’s why I think you’re seeing Linux sort of take over in the supercomputing market, at least as a new technology going forward.
HPCwire: Are we witnessing the beginning of the end for traditional operating systems?
GELARDI: No, I think what we’re witnessing is the emergence of a new technology, that, at least in the short term, and I’m going to declare in the medium term, and even the long term, is going to be a complementary technology. It’s the best example that I could give, is while Linux is being deployed rather broadly, I know that it doesn’t have the capability to run a large database server behind the transaction processing system. I’m talking about thousands of requesters whether they be users or applications, large twenty four-way symmetric multiprocessors. You know, so you can sort of think 24×7 reliability/availability of a single engine called the database server. Linux isn’t there yet, and I would argue that that will continue to be the domain of AIX RS6000 or DOS on Z Series or System 390. So I think what you’ll see is in the computing hybrid, in a costumer deployment, you’re going to see application serving, and web serving, and file and print, and other application environments being married with traditional computing environments, as opposed to completely replacing traditional computing environments.
HPCwire: What other long-term effect do you foresee Linux having on the high performance computing industry?
GELARDI: You know, I think the longer term effect is that it will, you know, clearly as I said before, become quite generic, if you will, across environments. It will force many research institutions to re-examine investments in more proprietary technologies. And that’s probably in the longer term. It’ll probably allow the high performance computing industry to take advantage of very high performance systems because the vendors, like IBM, will deliver Intel-based technologies and Power-based technologies that can be coupled together for supercomputing, but we will not see as much, if you will, customized high performance computing systems as we saw in the past. So the days of Cray, of Thinking Machines, KSR, and some of these more exotic technologies are really gone. So the vendor who can deliver the best, most robust, highest performing, best implementations of Intel and Power and other of the surviving microprocessors will the ones that will be dominant in this industry.
Obviously from our perspective as IBM where we’re already heavily, you know, represented, lets say. in the top 500 supercomputing list, what we expect to see happen over the next several years is that we’ll continue to be dominant and we’ll see mixtures of traditional RS 6000 SP and clusters of RS 6000 with the emergence of Intel-based Linux supercomputing technologies.
HPCwire: How would you describe IBM’s overall Linux strategy?
GELARDI: I think are overall Linux strategy, if I sort of step above, is to leverage the momentum of Linux to help us beat very specific competitors in very specific markets, allow us to take advantage of the community of development, which we’re really quite delighted with, and you’re going to see us make two types of investments. We’re going to invest in the enterprisation of Linux on the one hand and on the other hand you’re going to see us deploy Linux across our entire product line — all of our servers, which we have today, we’ll have all of our middle-ware available — so we’re going to make a huge play that says hey customer, if you adapt, or adopt, Linux in your enterprise we, IBM, are going to able to give you the full power of what we can deliver to the market — hardware, software, storage, services, applications, relationships, support. So we’re really going to use Linux as the disruptive influence that it already is to further our goals and objectives in the industry at large, while playing within the roles of this new community while being a good partner and a good player in the open source community.
HPCwire: How necessary is it for a software or hardware company to have a Linux strategy right now?
My personal belief is that unless you are a very purpose built envi- you know, if your company as a vendor of computing technologies is in any sense a general purpose supplier of technology and capability and you don’t have a Linux strategy, you’re going to be in serious trouble in the short term.