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Univa forks Oracle's Sun Grid Engine

Ellison's mind elsewhere

Another fork has appeared in the Sun Microsystems software road. Univa is forking the Sun Grid Engine project, now controlled by Oracle.

In the wake of Oracle's $5.6bn acquisition of Sun a year ago, co-founder and chief executive officer Larry Ellison made no secret of the fact that Oracle was not going to waste time on products and projects that do not make the company money. And rightly so, by the way.

Sun Microsystems was not a research lab or a charity, but the company's top brass often behaved as if it was. Oracle has backed out of selling x64 servers and switches into HPC shops at little or no margin, and Grid Engine, a program for gathering up spare CPU capacity on desktop and laptop machines as well as on clusters of servers to run supercomputer simulations and number-crunching jobs, has gone fallow.

Gary Tyreman, who has been chief executive officer at Univa for the past three years, does not bear Ellison or the rest of Oracle any malice. He just thinks that Grid Engine is not a priority for Oracle and is dying of neglect. Univa is a company that has an OEM license from Sun, which transferred over to Oracle, for the Grid Engine product, and it makes a living selling and supporting Grid Engine and extensions to the product. Univa wants Grid Engine to be extended and improved in ways that help HPC customers. And so, the company will be working with other Grid Engine community members to put together a new distribution and offer support on that as well as prior Grid Engine versions.

To that end, Univa has hired Fritz Ferstl, Grid Engine founder and original project owner, as well as an unspecified number of principal engineers from the Sun/Oracle Grid Engine software development and support team to keep Grid Engine going. Ferstl will become Univa's chief technology officer and will run the company's EMEA operations.

"There is obvious concern in the industry when Oracle is making decisions that are appropriate for its business but not necessarily helpful for technical computing," Tyreman explained to El Reg. "We think there is a void that we can fill."

Univa was founded in 2004 by the creators of the Globus toolkit, an effort that dates from 1995 that sought to merge the grid computing techniques used in supercomputers with evolving Web services to create a compute and storage utility infrastructure. (We call this a cloud these days, but it is really a utility.) The company's founders include Steve Tueck and Ian Foster, of Argonne National Lab, and Carl Kesselman, a researcher at the University of Southern California. Foster and Kesselman were the leaders of Globus toolkit.

The Globus Alliance was set up in 2003 to steer the development of the Globus toolkit and its integration with other necessary components in an HPC stack. (A cluster does not live by its resource manager alone, and the Globus grid software can be managed by the PBS, Condor, and Platform LSF schedulers with unofficial support for Grid Engine through third parties.) Univa was originally established to provider commercial support for the Globus toolkit, but it expanded out to support Grid Engine integration with Globus and then started distributing Grid Engine itself.

The way the Grid Engine clustering and job scheduling software worked at Sun, there were supported binaries distributed by Sun as well as unsupported binaries based on the open source code. Under the OEM deal with Sun, Univa acquired access to the supported binaries and provided level one and two tech support on it with level three support backing from Sun.

Tyreman says that the last time Oracle pumped out a new open source version of the Sun grid software was with Grid Engine 6.2 Update 5, which was a little more than a year ago. Univa will be working with Bad Dog Consulting, which provides services for the open source Grid Engine, and the Open Grid Scheduler, a project that was formed last year when Oracle put out Grid Engine 6.2 Update 6 without source code. Open Grid Scheduler sought to maintain the Grid Engine product and provide patches and updates, just like Univa is promising to do. The difference with Univa is that it has the tech people on staff who can credibly offer an alternative to what Oracle is doing. Or not doing, as the case may be.

Incidentally, Oracle is not killing off Grid Engine and continues to have some people dedicated to the product, which Tyreman says is being predominantly positioned for financial services customers and which is being integrated into Oracle's Enterprise Manager system management tools. At the end of December, Daniel Templeton, principal product manager for the Grid Engine product at Oracle, blogged that "changes for a bright future at Oracle" were afoot for Grid Engine.

This included decommissioning the open source site and repositories and transitioning it to the Oracle Technology Network. Templeton said the Grid Engine software engineers at Oracle would be available to help with the open source and binary versions of the tool, and that Open Grid Scheduler would "be continuing on the tradition of the Grid Engine open source project" and that OGS would remain independent of Oracle Grid Engine, with "support of the Oracle team." He added that Oracle was committed to enhancing Grid Engine and was putting together a new roadmap.

It is unclear what the departure of the engineers from Oracle for jobs at Univa has done to these plans. What is clear is that you can say that Oracle caused a fork in the Grid Engine code every bit as much as it forced one with Solaris, Lustre, and other pieces of the Sun software stack.

Tyreman says that there are over 4 million CPUs in over 1,000 government, academic, and commercial establishments that have Grid Engine deploying jobs on them. He also says that this may be a low-ball figure, with as many as 2,000 to 10,000 organizations possibly using the free binaries or open source code to run jobs on their clusters. This is not a small installed base, but it is one that got used to having a say in the development of the code as well as the luxury of commercial support from Sun and Univa.

Once all of the players in the Grid Engine arena coordinate with each other, Univa will be working to roll up patches to the product based on the Grid Engine 6.2 Update 5 version, which is the last open source release. Over the long haul, Tyreman says there will be a Univa-branded version of Grid Engine based on the open source code put out, very likely before the end of the first quarter. Because of the license that Univa had with Sun, Univa has the right to call the program Grid Engine, but Univa may call it something else. In the meantime, Univa continues to sell support services for all prior versions of Grid Engine, as it has been doing for years now, as well as its add-on products for Grid Engine.

Grid Engine support costs $99 per processor core per year. An extended product called Univa UniCluster is an entire stack of software for provisioning and managing a stack, which has the Grid Engine job scheduler at the heart of that. If you want this functionality, you add $25 per core on top of the base Grid Engine support fee. (These extensions are not open source, by the way. Univa hews to the open core or freemium philosophy of software distribution - the core is open, but the extra goodies are not). Another add-on, called UniCloud, allows for the provisioning of hypervisor-based server instances (either locally or in public clouds such as Amazon EC2, Rackspace Cloud, or GoGrid) as well as the bare-metal provisioning that UniCluster can do. Add $25 per core per year on top of that (or $149 in total) if you want that feature.

Univa also has a tool that converts the scripts used in Platform Computing's Load Sharing Facility (LSF), arguably the pioneering grid scheduler in the world, so they can be run on Grid Engine. The conversion tool can emulate more than 100 LSF commands and convert them to the equivalent Grid Engine functions. This tool can port about 90 per cent of the LSF commands, says Tyreman, making it a lot easier for companies to jump from LSF to Grid Engine.

Univa has 25 employees now with the addition of the Oracle people, and it has 60 paying customers. ®

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