[Beowulf] KVM to a compute node

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Wed Jun 2 09:14:17 PDT 2004

On Fri, 28 May 2004, Suvendra Nath Dutta wrote:

> What kind of solutions do people go to boot up an individual compute 
> node. We will have nodes with video cards and disks, so they can boot 
> up separately. But I am hoping there is a solution that is better than 
> stringing long KVM wires across the server room.

My own experience with serial consoles is that they suck.  I've used
KVM's but they get expensive when you have lots of nodes.  I think that
the best solution these days is to:

  a) Be sure to buy node hardware that will boot happily with no
attached KVM.  Most boxes these days, but there have been some in the
past that wouldn't, and even now one sometimes has to select special
bios settings to accomplish it.  One really wants the box to just boot,
no particular BIOS setting given, without anything hangining on it.

  b) Get a PXE NIC for your nodes and use PXE to do installs.  In a lot
of cases one can then avoid getting any kind of floppy or CD drive for
the nodes.  If one is adventurous, one can even go diskless altogether.
PXE installs scale close to perfectly; it is a pure requirement now here
for ALL systems, nodes or lan workstations -- who wants to screw around
with boot floppies or CDs?

  c) For that FIRST boot, the one where you need to configure PXE or
select the correct PXE kickstart install boot target or reflash the BIOS
from a PXE-provided floppy image, get a small flatpanel monitor (about
$200).  Put it and a small UPS ($50) and a keyboard and a mouse ($20) on
a cheap rolling laptop card ($60).  If you feel like going top dollar,
invest in a CHEAP four port KVM and a couple or three cable sets
($100-$200).  For $400-$500, you end up with a rolling monitor setup
that you can move around in your server room to access the real console
on nodes with video.  

Most cluster-class motherboards these days come with built in video
anyway; you can easily enough make it a requirement without heavily
impacting your choices.

Beats the hell out of umpty-cables from a big central KVM.  The cables
alone in this sort of setup will cost more than the cart.


> Suvendra.
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Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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