Clusters can be composed of hundreds or even thousands of computers and are therefore difficult to manage. But for integrators seeking the supplies to put those clusters together, a wide selection of hardware and software building blocks are now available in preassembled offerings.
Linux NetworX, a Sandy, Utah-based cluster integrator that has built some of the largest clusters in the world, developed ClusterWorX software to solve the challenge of assembling and managing its own clusters.
Last month, the solution provider announced a partnership with Hewlett-Packard that will enable other integrators and VARs to purchase HP hardware and Linux NetworX software together to build their own clusters.
"Monitoring and managing a cluster to get the biggest return on investment requires a mature management tool, and ClusterWorX is one of the leading tools," said Kirk Adams, business development manager at Linux NetworX. "For any reseller out there, the barriers have been lowered. You don't have to be an expert in Linux now to implement a Linux cluster solution."
HP offers additional hardware and software cluster supplies, such as Oracle9i Real Application Clusters. Solution providers can also resell HP cluster support to their customers, said Judy Chavis, HP's Worldwide Linux Director.
As more integrators enter the cluster market, other vendors are adapting their products and channel programs.
Intel, for example, sells its clusters exclusively through the channel and provides integrators with training, marketing assistance and community matchmaking, said Rick Hermann, manager of Intel's high-performance computing (HPC) practice.
"Integrators need to know how to customize, how to enable a cluster with products and programs in an ecosystem," Hermann said. "Our resources are best applied in investing in core building blocks and enabling the community, and working out the small technical issues with our integrators."
According to research firm IDC, nearly half of HPC clusters run on Linux, and about 6 percent run on Windows.
For its part, Microsoft plans to unveil a new licensing program for cluster systems and will charge a lower license fee per node, said Greg Rankich, Microsoft product manager for HPC solutions at Microsoft.
As for Apple Computer, there has been limited use of the Macintosh platform for HPC clusters, but the company expects those deployments to increase because of the Mac OS X server's scalability, said Eric Zelenka, product line manager for server software at Apple's worldwide product marketing group.
Meanwhile, numerous industries are investing in clusters, and IDC projects the HPC cluster market to grow to $2.3 billion in 2005, up from $508 million in 2002.
But because cluster solutions are complex, integrators often have difficulty assembling the various supplies necessary to craft them. As vendors come to recognize the channel as a viable sales route for clusters, they will continue to provide the hardware, software, training and support that integrators need.
"Setting up a Linux cluster is not as difficult as it used to be," said Mark Hall, an analyst at IDC. "The ease of management and ease of setup have improved significantly."
Added HP's Chavis: "This is the perfect time for resellers to jump in. There are lots of places for them to be creative and show their value-add."
Myricom, Arcadia, Calif., is another vendor that sells cluster supplies to both integrators and OEMs.
"We provide everything a company needs to turn a stack of computers into a high-performance cluster,the software, switches, cables, chips and training," said Myricom CEO Chuck Seitz. "Our resellers provide frontline customer support and specific expertise."
One of Myricom's main customers is IBM, which sells its own clusters both direct and through the channel. IBM recently unveiled its first stand-alone Linux server, the eServer p630, which the company said will be available for clustering.
"Each solution is a composite of technologies,hardware, middleware and applications,that are refined to be presented as a solution," said David Turek, IBM vice president of Linux clusters. "We help our partners integrate our technology and show them how to craft solutions."