The Little Green Lizard that Could

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Novell has just released some interesting deployment statistics for the HPC industry. Personally, I don’t usually categorize individual Linux distributions on the Top500, so this press release struck me as interesting. Apparently, Novell SUSE lives behind the consoles of 40% of the top 50 supercomputers [via the Top500 list]. They are also happy to point out that the top three machines wear the badge of the green lizard. BlueGene/L at LLNL, BlueGene/P at Juelich Research Center and SGI’s NMCAC ICE 8200 machine all run SUSE.

slesStepping back from the marketing numbers, ask yourself who has standardized on Novell’s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server platform? Namely Cray, SGI and IBM. Granted, SGI and IBM will most certainly sell subsets of their compute platforms with RedHat. That notwithstanding, the three top supercomputing vendors in the industry have essentially standardized on the same distribution. Why is this? [I’m really asking, because I don’t know].

At SGI, our focus is on high-performance computing and robust scalability, and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server is the operating system of choice for many of our Altix and Altix XE customers. As the requirements for high-performance computing continue to grow more complex across industries, the collaboration between SGI and Novell ensures that SUSE Linux Enterprise will continue to be the leading operating system for high-performance clusters that meet those new business needs today,” says Irene Qualters, SGI’s senior VP of software.

Of course, this is not to say that RedHat doesn’t have its own market share of HPC. Several of the most popular cluster management stacks solely support RedHat-based distributions [usually due to their dependence on Anaconda]. The Rocks folks have certainly carved out an incredible niche of the cluster centric HPC industry.

Feel free to sound off in the comments over this subject. I wholly understand the technical, political and religious debate surrounding your operating system of choice. [This as I write this article from my OpenSUSE desktop]. In the mean time, read the full press release here.


  1. Kevin Buterbaugh says

    Hi John,

    Let me give an opposing view. Our cluster (I work at a University) is kind of unique in that it is comprised of a mix of x86 (Opteron) and PowerPC (IBM JS/20 blade) nodes. The x86 side has always run some sort of RedHat clone (currently CentOS). When we first installed the JS/20’s however, we ran SLES 9 on them because that was the only thing IBM supported. For two years we came to grow and grow in our hatred of SLES and Novell. Things that “just worked” on RedHat were a royal pain on SLES. Novell was useless – their lead technical person for the entire state we’re located in liked to brag that he was running SLES on his laptop, but then couldn’t tell us what kernel version he was running (and didn’t know how to find out, either). This past spring we upgraded our entire cluster to 64-bit CentOS 5 and got rid of SLES / Novell for good.


    P.S. If you’re running OpenSUSE on your desktop, let me strongly encourage you check out MacOS X. The difference between the two is kinda like the difference between a hamburger at McDonalds at a steak at Mortons. 😉

  2. John Leidel says

    Kevin, thanks for your comments! I’ve been a long time user of Rocks [production and personal]. I absolutely loved it. CentOS is a great alternative to paying the hefty RHEL license fees for those who don’t need to chat with RedHat on a daily basis.

    On the issue of OpenSUSE and steak. If only Apple would sell OSX for “generic” Intel platforms so I didn’t have to pay the Apple hardware premium [regardless of how cool the Mac Pro looks]. Why go to Mortons when you can live in Texas and own a herd of cattle? Mortons is simply a home cooked meal! [no, i don’t live in the house from the sitcom “Dallas”].

  3. Come on John, we know you’re living the good life in Texas! (That half sized state, says the ex Alaskan.) When is the BBQ on the new Ranch?

    We’re running SLES 9 and upgrading to SLES 10 with the new versions of our SMW’s, or Software Management Workstations. This attached to all the large Cray XT systems in the world. Why SLES and not RedHat, not sure on that one. I do know we don’t want much out of our SMW O/S except as much reliability as absolutely possible.

    Now you’ve made me curious and I’ll need to do some poking around to find out why SLES and not something else. I’m interested to find out now.


  4. quick unofficial updated.

    Back a few days ago during the development of RedStorm, Cray needed a 64 bit O/S that they could modify for Portals, etc. SUSE was cooperative and willing to work with Cray on this one off project. This one off project just happened to grow into the XT line of computers.

    So, since SUSE was helpful and worked with Cray to get the O/S to work on RedStorm we just stayed with them with our current XT product lines. Which is growing and growing and growing.

    This of course I’ve learned through the rumor mill, and nothing official. But, from a feet on the ground viewpoint, it makes a lot of sense.


  5. John Leidel says

    Rich, I was thinking we could hold the BBQ the weekend before SC08. 🙂
    As always, thanks for your comments!

  6. Kevin Buterbaugh says

    Hi John,

    Couple of quick followups … first, for some strange reason Novell isn’t mentioning what version of Linux LANL’s new Roadrunner cluster is using – probably because it’s using RedHat.

    Second, while you can always find a cheap(ly made) PC at a lower price than an “equivalent” Mac, when you start comparing Macs to PC’s from other Tier 1 vendors (Dell, HP, etc.) I think you’ll find the cost differential to narrow considerably.

    I believe the small premium you do pay for a Mac is primarily for two reasons: 1) (most) people will pay it. If you’re Apple, or any other seller for that matter, why would you price something at $1,000 when you know people will pay $1,200? 2) I believe Apple subsidizes their (fantastic) software by the “premium” on hardware. I, for one, will gladly pay a slight hardware premium to get vastly superior software.

    My 2 cents worth…


    P.S. I believe a better analogy than Mortons / your own herd of cattle for MacOS X / OpenSUSE would have been Mortons / road-kill possum… 😉