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Introducing Loom: A new tool for managing complex systems


Contributed by Simon Firth, freelance technology journalist




Only a year after its inception, an HP Labs research project has already contributed to the company’s Helion cloud platform and promises to help make The Machine – HP’s vision for fundamentally redesigning computing for the Internet of Things – a reality.


The project is designing new software for understanding and managing highly complex systems and its first tool, code-named Loom, was announced at HP Discover in June by HP CTO and Director of HP Labs, Martin Fink.


“How do you manage at scale?” asked Fink in his keynote introducing The Machine. “How do you start thinking about the thousands of cores in the system and the petabytes of memory that you have available? As part of our Helion OpenStack product, we’re including a tool from HP Labs called Loom that allows you to manage thousands of servers and 40,000 virtual machines from one simple console.”


Loom’s initial application is aimed at managing hybrid clouds, notes HP Labs’ technical and research lead on the Loom project Rycharde Hawkes. “An enterprise can have multiple private and public clouds spread across the globe and find it very difficult to get an overview of what’s going on locally, let alone across the rest of its infrastructure spread across the planet,” he explains.


Loom addresses this problem by visualizing information drawn from the entire cloud in one display ‘window.' Furthermore, it then lets you act on that information and make changes to the cloud system, based on what has been reported. That’s significant, says Hawkes. “It’s not just a passive information dashboard that you sit back and watch. You can actually use it to make changes on all the systems and services that are plugged into Loom.”


In the case of HP Helion, managers can easily monitor their entire virtual infrastructure, figuring out what needs addressing and receiving alerts about issues that need their attention. Then, just as easily, they can take remedial actions to alter, for example, the power management of their virtual machines.


Hybrid Helion.png


This example shows Loom technology being used to simultaneously manage private and public HP Helion OpenStack clouds. The orange squares show the regions, workloads, instances, etc. that relate to the currently selected project. Red squares on an instance, region or workload indicate a potential issue that requires the attention of the system administrator.



But the team behind Loom, which is based in HP’s Security and Cloud Lab, have a broader ambition. “Our goal is to provide a scalable solution to understanding and manipulating complex systems in a way that you can’t really achieve using today’s technology and interfaces,” adds Julio Guijarro, research manager and project lead on Loom. “For us, Loom is a research test bed for exploring novel interfaces and platforms for doing just that.”


Building in scalability – essential if a tool like Loom is to handle the massive data volumes envisioned for The Machine – was the major challenge in developing their first solution, he says. The key turned out to be designing the user interface through the lens of what it needed to enable its users to do.


“Most visualization software today does only visualization and that’s it,” Guijarro adds. “There really is nothing else out there right now that can do what Loom is doing.”


An additional differentiator is the researchers’ ‘mobile-first’ perspective. A focus from the start on lightweight clients forced them to radically distill the information they were trying to convey – making it viewable on devices that not only feature a small ‘window,’ but also run with low power, small amounts of memory, and over wireless connections.


“If you look at managing millions of things and you are limited to a display that isn’t even HD resolution and is something you manage with your finger, that really makes you think hard about what’s important,” Hawkes believes. “It’s also quite important in terms of IT management, because more and more IT managers are using tablets and smartphones in their day-to-day work environment - and yet there’s an overwhelming amount of information they need to process and digest to actually understand what’s going on.”


As a part of HP’s new Helion OpenStack offering, HP Loom is already making its mark. In addition to being called out by Fink in his HP Discover keynote, Loom was demoed in the Helion display area at the Las Vegas event.


 “Loom was the highlight of our OpenStack Commercial Edition booth,” reports Matt Young, Senior Project Manager, HP Helion, who has overseen Loom’s integration into HP’s flagship Cloud offering. “It captured the attention of our customers and generated a lot of great discussions – we’re excited about where it is taking us.”



Related Links:


HP Helion

Helion OpenStack


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