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Cloud Computing: rBuilder Delivers Scientific Applications as Virtual Appliances

rPath Enables Virtualization and Cloud Computing for U.S. Department of Energy and CERN

rPath announced that the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) have been using rBuilder to deliver virtual appliances to both scientists’ desktops and computational clouds. The use of rBuilder in these environments reduces the effort required to support users and allows researchers to take advantage of underutilized computational resources.

rBuilder is a product that simplifies and automates the creation of virtual appliances. A virtual appliance is an application with a streamlined operating system, offered in a format that runs in virtualized environments.

CERN turned to virtual appliances to facilitate the analysis of data created by the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) experiments. The complete software environment needed by the LHC applications is assembled by rBuilder and distributed to run as a virtual machine on physicists’ desktops. Virtual appliances provide a consistent application environment for the LHC applications while, at the same time, allowing scientists to use their desktops for analysis, regardless of operating system.

“The coupling between the LHC applications and the operating system is very strong,” stated Predrag Buncic, Virtualization R&D project leader. “By distributing these applications as virtual appliances, we are able to isolate the application from the underlying desktop or laptop operating system, allowing the researchers to run the applications on systems that normally would not be supported.”

The DOE is exploring the concept of using virtual appliances to provide customized environments for scientific applications. Scientific applications are turned into virtual appliances using rPath’s rBuilder. The “Science Clouds” project (http://workspace.globus.org/clouds) provides resources capable of hosting multiple scientific appliances using the Globus Virtual Workspaces software. Scientists submit their virtual appliances to any available resource, knowing that the application environment is controlled and isolated from the underlying system. By relying on portable appliances, the scientists can leverage the resources of science clouds, and seamlessly move to commercial providers, such as Amazon’s EC2, when additional resources are needed.

“For a proof-of-concept anybody can just configure a virtual machine (VM) image by hand,” said Kate Keahey, a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory. “But providing appliance management and maintenance that will scale to many thousands of appliances and that will be truly interoperable between different resource providers requires a new approach.”

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