four-tier applications (was re: WinNT/Linux)

Horatio B. Bogbindero wyy at
Mon Feb 26 16:07:13 PST 2001

we take a different approach to this problem. yes, it is true that a lot
of people still us the m$ office products for their plotting and document
processing when there is gnumeric, latex, gnuplot and others. however, the
facts of life dictate that people are still dependent on office products.

here is our setup:

-we have a tiny 8-node beowulf cluster here. the master node is a pretty
beefed up machine compared to the other nodes. the nodes can be diskless
and boots off the big machine. all data is kept on this big machine.

-the cluster is located in a lab with about 20 winNT machines. we do not
let the winNT machine participate in the compute work. however, users use
these machines to access the cluster.

-we use SSH to get command line on the cluster

-we use the windows network neighborhood (via samba) to grab and place the
data on the winNT box. this also works since even partial data can be
grabbed and uses use their good ole m$ office apps.

-we use a winNT X windows client to connect to the X server for
visualization and others.

linux already tries to provide the tools for enabling windows interaction.
a modification of this is that the NFS ROOT server is a different machine
from the master node. users would connect to the master node for running
jobs and processing data. the diskless beowulf nodes would connect to the
separate NFS ROOT server for their root filesystem and application needs.
we will do this in the future once the cluster gets larger.

what ya think?

> I'd like to take Richard Shilling's comments a step further and suggest
> that the real solution for the scenario under discussion is a multi-tiered
> application using browsers/MSOffice as the front end, combined with a
> webserver, a database, and a compute cluster.  Ideally there should be
> enough abstraction at each level that any component at another level
> can be exchanged/upgraded/etc... without recoding.
> In this scenario a compute job input is gathered on the website (or if you
> must use MS Office _all the time_ then in an MSOffice Document with VBA
> macros) and then is sent to a database server.  A batch scheduler for the
> cluster then fetches its pending jobs from the database and runs them. The
> cluster then sends its output or result sets back to the database, where
> they can be retrieved by any number of web applications, including perl or
> php or vb scripts that can convert the data into an MS Office friendly
> format.  The tools for all of this already exist, they merely need to be
> glued together.  This is what my company is doing for at least one of our
> current cluster applications, though I'm attempting to guide the
> development such that we can construct a framework that will be more
> generally applicable.
> I would propose an architecture like so:
> * Client(win32) sets up job using a php driven website.
> * Input from web presentation layer is sent to mysql running on a database
> server.
> * Cluster gateway node queries database server for input and initiates
> job.
> * The same database/webserver can be used for monitoring progress of the
> job/performance of the cluster.
> * The result set/output of the compute job is sent back to the database
> (to a different table/tables, of course)
> * The client browser uses the web presentation layer to query the result
> set.
> * A script initiated from the website can pull data from the database and
> export to excel/access/word etc....
> Depending upon the expected number of requests the database/website could
> even be run from the gateway node itself, though for larger systems or
> ones with many clients it makes sense to separate this layer.  
> Now all of the above sounds nice, but the killer is that to implement it
> _all_ one has to pull a bunch of different skills together
> (high performance computing/beowulfing, database administration/design, web development, scripting, office automation) and
> it costs _time_, but in the end I think it will make the difference
> between systems that are academic in nature and ones that are truly
> professional.
> regards,
> -Ryan Sweet, 
> <rsweet at>
> Atos Netherlands, BV
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William Emmanuel S. Yu
Ateneo Cervini-Eliazo Networks (ACENT)
email  :  william.s.yu at
web    :
phone  :  63(2)4266001-5925/5904
Life is like bein' on a mule team.  Unless you're the lead mule, all the
scenery looks about the same.

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