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Breathing new life into xCAT

I read an article recently on The Next Platform stating that Lenovo is to breathe new life into xCAT cluster manager. It was of particular interest to me because in the early days of xCAT I worked heavily on development beta testing – designing and developing various scripts and plugins. Myself and the team at OCF still contribute to xCAT on feature requests; we provide some bug fixes and add to the documentation.

The article on The Next Platform details that Lenovo is leading a project to improve upon xCAT’s heritage making it simpler for new users and opening access to mid-size and smaller clusters. As such, Lenovo has built a new adaptation of xCAT called Confluent.

I think Lenovo will improve xCAT in a few ways. Firstly, Lenovo is looking to improve its usability. By this I mean, when you look at end-to-end automation of a cluster, it can be done through other pieces of software, meaning it may seem like its not worth the effort in using xCAT on smaller systems. If xCAT becomes ‘plug and play’, then it may encourage more users to adopt it.

From my experience though, whether it’s a small system or very large, the flexibility xCAT can provide is key, it plays a huge part in provisioning HPC systems.

I also certainly think Lenovo is looking at a more integrated solution where all the different pieces of software – schedulers, MPI’s etc. come as one piece.

I’m not sure they’ll phase out xCAT totally in favour of Confluent – a lot of developers have invested heavily into the code base, which will be difficult for Lenovo to move away from – but if the effort is focused on Confluent then it remains to be seen.

Most importantly though, the question is where will it leave customers? And my advice is that there’s nothing to worry about – xCAT works well and, as it’s open source, it’s going to remain current. But, with new technology come new opportunities.

Confluent could be a game changer, being an all in one solution. We’ve already had one piece of software from IBM that already does that – it’s a product that has xCAT underneath, a GUI and a scheduler. Confluent could go side by side or against IBM’s Platform HPC.

It’s interesting to see what Lenovo is working on and it’ll be worthwhile keeping an eye out and seeing where the company goes with the respective pieces of software. IBM invested heavily in the xCAT community so it’s a case of watch this space to see how Lenovo shapes up.

Do you use xCAT? We’d love to hear your thoughts on Lenovo’s plans for xCAT – are they right in moving to an all-in-one product [Confluent]?