Aeronautics manufacturer Lockheed Martin switched to using a Linux-based clustering system to perform the complex number-crunching computational analysis necessary to evaluate the safety of US Navy aircraft. Using a Linux NetworX R-Cluster system with 64 computers and 128 processors, Lockheed is assisting the Navy with evaluating the remaining service life of the EP-3E Reconnaissance Airplane. The R-Cluster helps Lockheed compute the aerodynamic loads on the EP-3E throughout the flight envelope, as part of the Navy's Service Life Assessment Programme, which estimates the fatigue damage and operational availability of aircraft. The firm moved to a Linux cluster, from a Unix-based system on Silicon Graphics Origin 2000 boxes. Clustering is a method of linking multiple computers through high-speed networks to form a single, more powerful system. Jeff Layton, Lockheed's senior engineer, said: "We are seeing a 40-times greater price-to-performance ratio over our past system, and can now test and model four times as many analyses in the same amount of time." Jon Collins, senior analyst at Bloor Research, said the project proved that - when properly configured - Linux systems are a match for even high-end computational systems, but the difficulty of setting up such systems remains an issue. "The technology is there and the issue now is when will mainstream providers of Linux provide support for clustering? It's an issue of general acceptance, and for this kind of technology to really take off it needs the backing of companies like Red Hat and IBM which offer services as well as support," said Collins. Linux NetworX builds its cluster systems from commodity components and then implements its proprietary cluster management and optimisation tools. Lockheed is using a version of cluster management software from Linux NetworX, ClusterWorX version 1.2, which was released this week. The software allows users to control a cluster as one single system while providing remote monitoring and management capabilities. ClusterWorX, which is distributed with Linux NetworX cluster systems and not available separately, provides users with a graphical user interface featuring both command line and HTML. Other management tools include remote access, disk cloning and serial access to nodes, including remote monitoring and resetting of individual nodes without effecting the uptime of the entire system. Disk cloning is a valuable feature for large cluster systems because it allows software and other updates to be installed on one node and automatically distributed to the entire system. Lockheed plans to use its Linux NetworX R-Cluster system for the EP-3E project through 2001, and will continue using the system in other projects demanding high-computation power in the future.