USI Virtual Grid

Long Title: USI Virtual Grid
Universita della Svizzera Italiana
Domain: Grid
Status: finished
Start Date: 09.12.2011
End Date: 31.03.2012
Project Leader: A. Peternier
Deputy Project Leader: G. Toffetti Carughi

A persistent pool of shareable Virtual Machines improve availability and robustness for users and lead to energy efficiency.


Component Description
Overseer library The Overseer library (allowing low-level monitoring, measurements and interaction with the underlying hardware) has been extended and tested on the new generation of CPUs installed on this server (AMD Bulldozer processors).
Amazon AWS-compatible virtual environment Thanks to Eucalyptus and the high-end specifications of the server, USI disposes now of a very versatile infrastructure allowing a very wide range of VMs to be run simultaneously and compatible with the commercially available Amazon AWS platform.

With the USI Virtual Grid project, a piece of the cloud was brought to the campus. Thanks to the server machine provided by this project, one can run a multitude of Virtual Machines to allocate for scientific and research needs. USI Virtual Grid is a computer providing virtual computers.

Thanks to the amount of virtual computers provided by USI Virtual Grid, is is possible to recreate and simulate server rooms, distributed systems and even portions of the WWW on a single physical machine. The research group and partners will be able to use this virtualized testing environment for experiments requiring a large number of distributed resources.

The server is physically located in a server room at the University of Lugano. Remote access to the system is given to students, staff, and external partners involved in scientific and research projects.


The main objective is to provide users with a persistent pool of Virtual Machines (up to about 50/100, according to the need, the Virtual Machine configurations, and hardware available) as opposed to the real machines that were made available through the USI Desktop Grid projects.
The main advantage is that the new Virtual Machines will be installed on a single, dedicated high-performance server and will rely on virtualization, thus allowing more freedom at the level of customization (choice of the Operating System, cores/RAM for each Virtual Machine, etc.).
As a second objective, Virtual Machines will be shareable with external institutions. In this way, ongoing and future USI projects involving external partners will benefit from a stable virtual computational platform that can be customized and allocated according to the different needs.


Main benefits are:

  • improved availability (more difficult to obtain with a Grid made exclusively of office/classroom Desktop PCs when unused),
  • robustness (Virtual Machines can be easily backed-up for failure-recovery), and
  • energy efficiency (the core/watt ratio on a single server is better than a similar amount of cores belonging to a cluster of Desktop PCs).

With this project USI starts introducing technologies such as Cloud computing which are expected to:

  1. make it easier for users to access their Virtual Machines as opposed to having to submit Condor jobs;
  2. take advantage of recent hardware developments. The latest generation servers contain several multicore CPUs providing the relative computational power of a series of Desktop PCs into a single box. The project precisely aims at complementing the USI Desktop Grid with alternative virtual resources provided on top of such a server-class machine.

Users will be USI students, researchers and staff members to USI external project partners. Web, Grid and Cloud services technologies are a key topic in both the research and education areas at USI: there is a growing need for resources to practice and experience with advanced research scenarios. Usually, only limited experiments can be performed in the real world and thus require a controlled environment to perform simulations, development and benchmarking.
A pool of customizable Virtual Machines contributes to build a highly suitable infrastructure for such experiments.

The server will be natively installed with Ubuntu Linux Server Edition. The main hypervisor used will be KVM with several management options (AQEMU, command line tools, VM-Mad). The OS installed on each Virtual Machine will be decided later, accordingly to user requirements. Each Virtual Machine will also be configured with Condor in order to be used as part of the USI Desktop Grid when idle.