The June 2012 Interview

By making High Performance Computing clusters user-friendly and affordable to small and medium enterprises, the XLcloud platform will spur innovation and collaboration in the HPC marketplace.

XLcloud Interview: Patrick Petit, Cloud Computing Lead Architect for BULL SAS, Echirolles (France), MBA (Grenoble Graduate School of Business), BS Computer Science (Paris VIII University)


How would you present the XLcloud project?

It's an incredibly exciting project to be involved with. We are building a High Performance Cloud Computing (HPCC) platform called XLcloud for all those applications requiring highly intensive calculations. XLcloud is being developed as a collaborative platform so as to enable individuals and businesses to work together in such a way that no single user will have to invest in the proprietary software or hardware from their own budget. In addition to traditional industrial and scientific applications, the platform will support high-definition remote visualization and demonstrate complex simulation modeling. These obviously would not be the sort of things you would find on your home computer. 

Who is this platform being designed for?

Our challenge is to make this technology available to small and medium enterprises who would not be able to afford either the software or the hardware. We want to simplify access to HPC technology for the benefit of end-users. Our project will save them valuable time and money, making it possible for individuals and businesses to take advantage of HPC commercial applications more efficiently and effectively. Furthermore, XLcloud will spur innovation and collaboration in the HPC marketplace, including vendors in the IT industry and partner academic institutions, all working towards the development of concrete cloud computing projects. 

What is your role in the project?

I am the project lead and thus must wear a lot of hats. I cover all aspects of project management: from coordination to making sure our partners deliver to deadlines, and from arbitration to staying on top of a whole range of administrative tasks. We signed an agreement with the government to do something according to a plan and we intend to follow that plan. In addition to all the administrative work, I am also the project's chief architect for the engineering team at Bull.

Can you give me a bit of the background to the project?

In April 2011, we submitted a 156-page project proposal that was eventually selected for subsidization by the French government through its Fonds national pour la Société Numérique (FSN). In addition to the partners, this submission was authored by a subsidiary of Bull called Serviware that runs the HPC on-demand eXtreme Factory platform. You can't imagine how delighted we were to have been selected by FSN as one of the five national project winners. We were awarded a substantial subsidy to cover the project's lifecycle from research to implementation. 

What happened when you got the green light?

We officially launched the XLcloud project in January 2012. Since then, we have brought together R&D engineers from our partner academic institutions and a number of start-ups in the sectors who are actively contributing to the project. All of us are committed to work on the project for the next 36 months.

What key innovation will you bring to the table or help to develop?

First, we want to provide industrial solutions for handling complex computation in the field of computational and data-intensive tasks in the cloud. Second, we want to remove some of the current obstacles to the operational implementation of high performance applications in the cloud. Third, we want to build a layer above OpenStack to instantiate pre-installed, pre-configured virtual clusters on demand. This layer would be a kind of "Platform as a Service" managed middleware on behalf of the end-users. For example, it would automatically configure and scale schedulers to run applications. We think it represents a major leap in technology. Currently a huge amount of expertise is required for end-users to run their HPC clusters, but XLcloud will make HPC clusters user-friendly. We think we have found the right open source solution.

Can you tell us about yourself and your organization?

I started working in Bull's innovative products business line in Echirolles, which is just south of Grenoble, in March 2011. Before joining Bull, I used to work at Sun Microsystems as a senior architect in the R&D division and Technology Office since 1997.  At Bull, I am responsible for defining and leading the R&D activities in cloud computing. I am the main conduit between the marketing and the engineering organizations to support the implementation of the company's strategic planning in that area.

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