Apple Puts a Name to Its Cluster Technology: Xgrid

UPDATED: Apple Computer on Tuesday entered the grid computing market. A result of the company's Advanced Computation Group, Xgrid Preview Edition was offered for download.

SAN FRANCISCO—One new technology somewhat underplayed during CEO Steve Jobs Macworld Expo keynote address on Tuesday was Xgrid, Apples new grid computing environment. A product of the companys Advanced Computation Group, XGrid Preview Edition Tuesday was offered for download by the company.

The keynote address featured a video describing the experience of the Terascale Computing Facility at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va. In September, the group configured a cluster supercomputer with 1,100 Apple Power Mac G5s. The supercomputer uses Mac OS X along with the Virginia groups clustering software.

However, Apple Tuesday revealed that it had its own solution for computational clusters. The software marks an effort by Apple to bring clustered computing to a mainstream audience including small- and mid-sized businesses.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read more about Virginia Polytechnics Mac-based supercomputer.

In an interview with, Apple Senior Vice President of Hardware Engineering Jon Rubinstein said Xgrid will "let supercomputers become personal." He described a migration of the technology—which currently is confined to the most rarified levels of the computing industry—to workgroups and even to individuals.

According to the company, the software can be set to operate as a dedicated clustered-computing environment as well as in a distributed-computing "screen-saver" mode that uses agent technology to dynamically discover unused processing power on designated desktops and servers on a network.

Apple officials said the Xgrid software leverages Apples Rendezvous networking technology to "automatically discover, connect and manage tasks across available systems in a Mac cluster." While Rendezvous is a multiplatform, open standard, Xgrid will only address resources on hosts running Mac OS X and the agent software. The computers in the cluster must also be on the local subnet. "It could be a personal cluster, or computers in a computer lab. Xgrid lets someone make better use of their computing resources for distributed batch processing," said Tom Goguen, director of server software marketing at Apple.

Packing a 42U rack with the companys new Xserve G5 servers in a 42U industry-standard rack, Xgrid can cluster up to 84 PowerPC G5 processors, providing as much as 1.5 teraflops of processing power, officials said.

Mark Jeffries, senior systems specialist with Genentech Inc. of South San Francisco, said that the new Xserve G5 hardware makes a better case for Xgrid, rather than standard desktop machines. Apple is targeting biotechnology customers for Xgrid, and the software ships with built-in support for the bioinformatics tool BLAST, developed by the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

While companies looking for clustered computing solutions might be put off by a vendor that is "new to the game" like Apple, "Xgrid will be a good on-ramp for quite a number of folks," Jeffries observed.

Apple provides a software console with an OS X-native Aqua interface to execute Unix commands, run shell scripts or feed applications across a cluster. The package also comes with a software developer kit.

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Editors Note: This story was updated to clarify which clustering software used by the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in Blacksburg, Va..