LinuxWorld: Merrill Lynch building toward stateless datacentre

Financial giant Merrill Lynch is building a stateless datacentre where it can dynamically combine capacity with operating system and application components to meet its computing needs in real time.

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Financial giant Merrill Lynch is building a stateless datacentre where it can dynamically combine capacity with operating system and application components to meet its computing needs in real time.

"What we want to get to is someone who comes in and says 'I need X amount of capacity, I need it for this amount of time, I need it 24 by 7 or I need 20 minutes of capacity and at the end of the month I need 100 units of capacity' as opposed to 'I need X number of servers'," said Jeffrey Birnbaum, managing director and chief technology architect at Merrill Lynch. "This is the shared utility computing model. It is moving away from the dedicated [server or desktop] idea."

Birnbaum made his remarks during the opening keynote address of the LinuxWorld/Next Generation Datacentre conference that opened Monday, which is being run by Computerworld UK's parent company IDG.

He said stateless and cloud computing have some overlap and that stateless will intersect with the cloud. He added that for too long that state has been closeted in individual servers and desktops, which has directly contributed to rising IT costs.

Birnbaum said the central idea of stateless computing "is that you have made access to all applications ubiquitous by placing them in an organised file system or namespace much like the World Wide web is a namespace."

He said it is just like using the URL gmail.com to find Google mail.

"We can do the same thing with applications even if you are talking about an enterprise," he said.

Birnbaum said Merrill Lynch is building such a namespace and file system and a set of tools to manage that namespace.

"We call it the enterprise file system but it could be called the application deployment system," he said.

Merrill Lynch has vetted the concept, but Birnbaum admitted the company is still in the development stage.

"The key to this thing is versioning. The idea is you put everything you do in an application library and you put it in this file system. So, therefore, you never have the problem of the software stack or individual execution environments. That is the wrong concept."

With all components in a version namespace companies would build applications utilising that namespace so all the applications' dependencies can be referenced.

"Every application would know what its dependencies are and they would be serviceable through this global processing. That is a key concept," he said.

Birnbaum said Merrill Lynch has four datacentres around the globe and will use a combination of replication and caching to synchronise its file system and to ensure performance.

"That is how you scale a global file system," he said. Even the virtual machines would be stateless. "You stream the components of the application and the operating system to the VM and then RDP the application to the desktop [or server]." He said a key to this concept is a placement engine, which Merrill Lynch is trying to create.

The engine would be able to find components and deploy the application within the data enter where it would run most effectively based on its constraints such as the amount of memory it requires, the number of CPUs, the amount of time it will be up, on what particular subnet and near which particular data repository it needs to reside.

"The placement engine knows about all the available resources," Birnbaum said.

He said three factors are helping drive this concept toward reality: 10G Ethernet that can handle the load of stateless and cloud computing, an L2 switch environment, and less of a need for redundant hardware in the stateless architecture.

"This is stuff we are intending to do," he said. "Right now in our labs we are testing the stateless desktop approach with streaming the [operating system] and streaming apps. We have Linux implemented for stateless and we are today booting Linux in a stateless way and running it. We are playing around with the workload management system and placement engine but we have not found the nirvana piece of software. It is going to take a little while."

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