On Monday, Platform Computing announced it acquired Scali Manage, the HPC cluster management platform developed by Scali Inc. The product provides a full-featured cluster configuration and monitoring solution for a range of hardware platforms. Platform will take over the entire business surrounding Scali Manage including sales, development, support and quality assurance. All key Scali Manage personnel have joined the company.
The acquisition reflects Platform’s business strategy to become a one-stop shop for cluster and grid software infrastructure. Because of the attractive initial cost of clusters, these systems now represent more than half of all HPC deployments, and that domination is expected to continue. Where clusters leave something to be desired is usability. As demand for cluster computing grows, Platform sees increased need for simplifying system manageability to drive end user productivity.
“The issues are increasingly management — management of running the applications, management of availability and performance of applications, as well as management of all the hardware and software pieces,” said Platform Computing CEO Songnian Zhou. “As the market matures, customers are increasingly looking for integrated infrastructure software for all aspects of the HPC environment…. Platform Computing’s strategy is to be the dominant infrastructure software provider for HPC.”
Currently, many customers and OEMs collect cluster management tools, workload managers, and schedulers from a number of vendors and open source repositories, which increases the complexity of system deployment. Platform’s plan is to make these components available as a single integrated solution. The company will use the Scali Manage acquisition to help build a more complete HPC management solution around their current Platform LSF and OCS (Open Cluster Stack) products. The LSF products represent the company’s workload management solutions for grid and HPC environments, while OCS is Platform’s cluster software stack built from a combination of open source and commercial software.
Platform’s intention is to eventually integrate its OCS product into Scali Manage to create a more complete, unified cluster management offering. According to Zhou, Scali Manage is “highly complementary” to their OCS product. Scali Manage’s main strength is managing large-scale heterogeneous cluster environments, while OCS provides a verified software stack that conforms to the Intel Cluster Ready standard. The company’s goal is to provide a robust cluster management solution that can scale from a simple homogeneous cluster to large heterogeneous clusters spread across a datacenter. Although Platform has not elaborated the Scali Manage-OCS integration plan, Zhou said the company is “fully committed” to supporting existing Scali Manage and OCS customers.
Platform also intends to integrate Scali Manage with its LSF product. The idea here is to deliver an integrated workload-cluster management suite to provide a much more holistic view of the computing environment, allowing users to correlate application demands with cluster resources. The Scali-LSF integration work has already begun and is planned for completion by the second quarter of 2008. According to Platform, Scali Manage will also continue to support existing integrations with other workload managers besides LSF.
Both OCS and Scali Manage currently have hundreds of customers spread across the traditional HPC markets including industrial manufacturing, oil and gas, life sciences, financial services and government. OCS is mainly distributed through partnerships with companies like Dell and Red Hat, while Scali Manage is sold through both direct sales and via reseller relationships with OEMs (HP, Dell and SGI). The Scali Manage business gives Platform additional market penetration into cluster management customers, as well as the extra benefit of markets established in Europe.
“As in many strategic acquisitions, the acquiring company is in a better position to deliver technology to the market, while achieving lower cost, and that advantage is transferred to the customers and the channels,” said Zhou.
From Scali’s point of view, they’ve sold off half of their product portfolio. Their remaining MPI Connect product is now the entire focus of the company. In the past few years, that product’s growth rate was outpacing Scali Manage, thanks to the demand for MPI scalability, as quad-core processors and larger clusters became more common. According to Scali Chairman of the Board (and former CEO) Jack Kay, the changing proportions of the Scali Manage and MPI Connect businesses forced them to re-evaluate the company’s direction.
“Scali Manage and Scali MPI Connect, while both good products, are, from an engineering and marketing perspective, somewhat orthogonal to each other,” said Kay. He admitted that Scali Manage is the kind of product that requires an end user distribution strategy, which necessitates a large investment in sales, marketing, support and advertising. As a small engineering-focused organization, this was hard to achieve. By contrast, MPI Connect is a product that inhabits the HPC food chain above the end user, so it allows an organization like Scali to work more intimately with other HPC vendors.
“Platform has a world-wide investment in the kind of support structure that would allow a product like Scali Manage to thrive to a much greater extent than under a Scali umbrella,” explained Kay. “Scali in terms of its culture, its history, and the numbers of people, is a technology-driven company. So in choosing between these two, we chose the one that not only appears to be growing faster, but also the one that is more geared to who and what we are as a company.”