NEWS

April 24, 2020

Linomtha Cloud Infrastructure for South African Researchers and Academia

CentOS based OpenStack Cloud

The Centre for High Performance Computing (CHPC) is proud to announce a new on-premise cloud infrastructure that has been delivered recently under exceptional circumstances. The delivery of the system is testament to the close collaboration CHPC has with Linomtha ICT (SA) and their strategic technology partners StackHPC Ltd. (UK), Supermicro (SA), and Mellanox (IL), and will ensure that the CHPC has a stable environment to continue to deliver on its mandate. The OpenStack Production Cloud Services caters for the CHPC scientific users executing, for example, custom workflows, embarrassingly parallel workloads and webhosting. The OpenStack services will also be a road-header for such HPC configuration in the future. It is envisaged that this platform will build both the skills and operational experience for CHPC, to develop, provision and operate a National federated OpenStack platform, which will be linked with other countries, that are involved in the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project.

The Cloud infrastructure has been designed in such a way that the transportation of data to and from the CHPC to the external institutions that are connected to the NICIS network or those that want to utilise the DIRISA long term storage can be achieved.


Linomtha, a majority black owned company comprising of an energetic mix of business people, entrepreneurs and engineers with experience and skills from various fields, together with CHPC, successfully completed the installation of the OpenStack Production Cloud Service project.


Linomtha recognises the important role that ICT can play in terms of economic growth, social inclusion and government efficiency. The key individuals driving Linomtha all have extensive practical experience in the field of ICT, working on large scale government and private sector projects across the country and are recognized as experts, both locally and internationally. Linomtha is a value-added reseller of StackHPC as well as Supermicro, the key technology partners in responding to CHPC’s RFP.  LinomthaICT sister company, LinomthaID, provided the Billing/Invoicing portal for the solution through it’s VOIS platform.


The CHPC has been running a VMware virtual environment or cluster (IT-Shop) previously, as an alternative to support scientific projects or applications which were not best suited for High Performance Computing Platform. Projects were mostly hosted on the IT-Shop Cluster as web portals to support these special scientific groups to share data-knowledge or compute their specific scientific workflows. 


The IT-Shop cluster is currently over-provisioned, especially for memory resources, due to the large demand of numerous projects requiring high-spec virtual machines and has become an unreliable environment, no longer able to adequately serve the users, as the performance and available capacity has deteriorated over time. 


The CHPC OpenStack Production Cloud will provide a sufficient and efficient environment to continue to support these kinds of projects from the IT-Shop. In addition, the CHPC Cloud Solution will offer the following benefits and functionalities which were not met on the current IT-Shop:



The CentOS based OpenStack Cloud is a self-service Virtual Machine (VM) provisioning portal for CHPC Administrators where common administrative tasks like VM creation, recoup unused resources, and infrastructure maintenance tasks are automated and capacity analysis, utilization, and end-user costing reports can be generated.


Through this project, CHPC administrators have been exposed to the initial implementation of the OpenStack system and have hands on experience of performing the various required tasks.  


Linomtha together with Supermicro, Mellanox, StackHPC and LinomthaID have jointly-engineered the CSIR OpenStack Cloud Solution. This solution is built on Supermicro Server and Storage systems that deliver first to market innovation and optimized for value, performance and efficiency. Using the Supermicro TwinPro Servers to provide 320cores/640threads (2.50 - 3.90GHz) and over 3TB DDR4 2933 Memory providing some 9GB RAM per core all in just 4U of rack space, connected through Mellanox 100GB Ethernet Networking to Supermicro Ultra and Supermicro Simply Double Servers providing a CEPH Storage cluster with over 1.5PB (1500TB) of Mechanical Disk Storage and more than 220TB of Flash Storage. 


OpenStack was deployed with OpenStack Kayobe, a tool largely developed and maintained by StackHPC within the OpenStack Foundation. Kayobe provides for easy management of the deployment process across all compute, storage and networking infrastructure using a high degree of automation through infrastructure as code. Kayobe invokes a containerised Kolla control plane providing for easier upgrades and maintainability. In addition to the infrastructure element, Kayobe also deploys rating, monitoring and logging services providing insight on resources and their use.


The integration of the invoicing engine and portal, VOIS, was undertaken by LinomthaID who extracted the billing information of the Openstack Usage provided by Cloud Kitty, and localised and customised the invoicing to CHPC requirements.

Ensuring there was constant and clear communication during the project, the Linomtha project team ensured daily stand-up calls, weekly progress meetings and utilised tools such as Slack and Google Meet – which allowed for quick turnaround times for addressing queries.


“We were impressed with the Slack communication and the shared Google drive provided for documentation between team members, it made the sharing of thoughts much easier resulting in solving problems quickly and collaboratively.”


A single point of contact was identified from each stakeholder involved in the project, allowing for communication to flow to the right people and ensuring action items were accomplished and ultimately, meeting the challenging deadline.


One component of the project was training which initially was to take place on-site, but due to the restraints of COVID-19, the team improvised and the training was successfully delivered remotely, over a five-day period. The training was deemed a great success! The training has ensured that the CHPC Administrators have sufficient knowledge and confidence to efficiently manage the environment.


“The training was one of the best we've attended, the setup was great, the trainer’s expertise and their quick thinking or rather well-considered answers in providing solutions to our questions was impressive. The information gathered and shared is helping us with our OpenStack operations and we can only grow strong from here with our OpenStack expertise as well.”


No project is without challenges and this one was no exception. One of the lessons learnt was that the time between the initial workshop and implementation was too compressed. It did not allow for all team members, including technical resources, to fully understand the finer technical detail of the project and allow them to all contribute.  


Despite the challenges encountered during the project, through the professional Linomtha Project Management deployment, milestones were met, the deadline accomplished, quality documentation drafted, successful training delivered and the handover to operations completed within the required deadline and budget.

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