At times, Linux seems almost like a religion: Either you believe or you don't. Soon, true believers who are in the market for cars may feel inclined to buy Audis as a demonstration of their faith. That's because the German automaker is using a cluster of Linux-on-Intel systems to simulate parts and design factory tooling for its next-generation chassis. Audi replaced an eight-processor, RISC-based system from Hewlett-Packard that was running HP-UX and coming off a three-year lease.
But the move to Linux is much more than a symbolic gesture for Audi, a unit of Volkswagen AG. In fact, Audi intends to use Linux for as many applications as possible.
"If the application allows us to move to Linux, we will do it," says Martin Saller, Audi's head of virtual-reality planning and projects in Ingolstadt, Germany. "We don't see any need to stay on the Unix side if the app is available for Linux."
In fact, the VR unit's move to Linux was driven largely by Magma GmbH, which supplies Audi with simulation software to plan the manufacturing process for new car designs before prototypes are available. Magma had never optimized its simulation tool for HP-UX or other variants of Unix, but had done so for Linux systems from Linux Networx and Siemens Fujitsu. Windows wasn't even an option because Magmasoft, the simulation software, doesn't run on that platform.
Audi runs Red Hat Linux on an 18-system cluster from Linux Networx. Each box houses two 32-bit Intel 2.4-GHz processors. Sixteen of those systems are devoted to simulation calculations for castings. One system serves as a hot standby and the other system houses the management software. Audi uses LSF (Load Sharing Facility) from Platform Computing to manage the cluster. The migration was mostly plug-and-play, Saller says. Magma provided most of the updates, and Audi's internal developers tweaked the LSF user interface to work with the Linux Networx boxes in just a few weeks.