Double-Take Flex for HPC brings iSCSI SAN boot to HPC Server

Double-Take Software offers Flex for HPC, a diskless iSCSI SAN boot solution for Microsoft's HPC Server R2 that includes an iSCSI target and iSCSI provider.

Double-Take Software Inc. this week launched Double-Take Flex for High Performance Computing (HPC), a diskless iSCSI SAN boot solution for Microsoft Windows HPC Server 2008 R2.

Steve Marfisi, Double-Take's product manager for the Flex product calls Flex for HPC a "one-vendor diskless boot solution for Microsoft HPC that uses the native PXE [Preboot eXecution Environment] boot capabilities on existing systems."

The product release comes as Vision Solutions prepares to complete a $242 million acquisition of Double-Take. The deal, announced in May, is expected to close in July pending approval of Double-Take's shareholders.

According to Marfisi, Flex for HPC includes both the iSCSI target and the iSCSI provider to link into the Microsoft management console.

Microsoft's HPC Server enables provisioning of thousands of compute nodes from a single head node for parallel processing in areas such as bio sciences, mechanical design, chemical engineering and nuclear research. Microsoft released the third-generation R2 version in March. Marfisi said Microsoft approached Double-Take for the diskless network boot solution.

"They wanted to make it easier to manage and provision these systems," he said.

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Double-Take claims Flex for HPC saves customers from having to manually provision each boot volume individually for each HPC compute node. Flex for HPC lets users create and provision all boot volumes at once by sharing a master boot volume to all compute nodes.

"We can bare-metal boot and provision an operating system to hundreds or even thousands of compute nodes within a fairly short time frame, like an hour to 90 minutes," Marfisi said, "all in a software-based platform."

Lauren Whitehouse, a senior analyst at Enterprise Storage Group, said Double-Take's Flex can use shared boot volumes for better performance and lower costs in an HPC environment. "So you get the combined benefits of high performance, virtualization and central management with an easy-to-provision and manage environment," Whitehouse said.

The original Flex product was sold by emBoot Inc. and let customers move servers to a centrally managed iSCSI SAN and boot from the SAN. Double-Take purchased emBoot in July 2008, and relaunched the product as Double-Take Flex in April 2009.

Double-Take's Marfisi said Microsoft HPC Server can do diskless boot one of three ways: through PXE, the network boot standard since 1998; using gPXE, the PXE open source alternative; and through iSCSI Option ROMs, which are boot ROMs that can use either PXE boot or iSCSI boot. According to Marfisi, Double-Take's Flex for HPC can do it all three ways. "Our approach to this was to allow users to be able to find all the pieces from one vendor," he said.

The entry price for the Flex for HPC product is $1,995, including the servers and licenses for 40 compute nodes. Each additional compute node license is $50. Flex for HPC was made available June 23.

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