Saturday, May 13, 2006

Information on Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 (CCS)

What is Compute Cluster Server?

Ever wanted to use the computing power of multiple servers to process the data in your database faster? If yes, Compute Cluster Server has the answer for you.
Unlike regular clusters, which share a common storage and provide availability in case of a node failure, CCS is designed to simultaneously use the computing power of multiple nodes (COMPUTE part of CCS). With this feature, high demanding applications like in financial and research domains, can use the computing power of multiple nodes and release the output faster.

This is a new product from Microsoft Windows server 2003 suite for high performance computing solutions. It works on a 64-bit platform and is currently available in beta and is expected to be available sometime soon (first half of 2006 as per Microsoft. It uses a core technology called as MS-MPI (Microsoft Message Passing Interface).

It can be deployed like any other Windows server deployment with the flexibility of adding more nodes to the existing cluster. The other cool feature is the built-in manageability which provides the administrator to build scripts and run scheduled jobs in a much easier way. The CCS server blends seamlessly with the existing Windows infrastructure and does not need any specialized skillset to manage it. The existing IT team can manage CCS with some amount of training and hands-on.

How is the cluster architected?

The cluster consists of a Head Node and a minimum of two attached compute nodes. The head node is the first node of the cluster from where the cluster administrator can add and manage the compute nodes. The head node manages the jobs and services to be run on the compute nodes like an interface between the users submitting processing requests and the compute nodes doing the processing. The head node can be configured to participate or not participate in the computing process.
The compute nodes can be of dissimilar hardware however, they will all need to be on 64-bit hardware and run the 64-bit editions of Windows 2003 or Windows 2003 R2 operating systems. There is no upper limit on the number of compute servers that can be added to the cluster. The head node will need the .Net Framework 2.0 for CCS to work. The cluster can also be managed remotely from a workstation which is running Windows XP. There is no fault tolerance built in for the head node, hence this is the machine that should have the most reliable hardware.
The following diagram from helps understand the CCS architecture:

In addition to the public and the heartbeat networks for a regular data storage cluster, the CCS also supports an MPI network. This is a fast network connection which can transfer data between nodes for processing. The best advantage can be utilized by placing the MPI network on a Gigabit switch. In case you do not have a dedicated MPI network, the processing traffic between the nodes can also happen over the heartbeat or the public network. So, in CCS, you can have 3 different networks: Public, heartbeat and MPI.
The installation of the Head nodes and the compute nodes are pretty straight forward and screenshots and step-by-step guide is available here or here.
The sad part is, the applications will have to be re-written in the new CCS environment and Microsoft will provide a Software Development Kit (SDK) for it.
CCS comes integrated with Remote Installation Services (RIS) for automated deployment of compute nodes and Internet Connection Sharing (ICS) for enabling access over NAT.

In what situations is it useful for me?

One situation I can think of is, if your cluster is running out of computing power and you do not have the right estimate for the amount of load that would be generated on the cluster in the near future, you might want to consider CCS. This situation might arise due to exponentially growing business, or an un estimated increase in the user base. This could arise after you open up a service or a new application for your customers over the internet adding more CPU cycles. Of course, this will need the application to be re-written for CCS.


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