[Beowulf] A Good Linux Distribution to Start with?

Weijia Kuang kuang at bowie.gsfc.nasa.gov
Thu Sep 9 13:15:25 PDT 2004


But we have compatibility problem to install PVFS to our cluster (that 
uses FC2).
Any suggestion?  Weijia Kuang

Robert G. Brown wrote:

>On Wed, 8 Sep 2004, Dragovich, Jeff wrote:
>
>  
>
>>I am at the point in my beowulf cluster construction where I need to
>>pick the Linux distribution to use. I have a small cluster (10 nodes,
>>CISCO switch, a single control machine). The cluster will support
>>parallelizing/benchmarking a finite element program using MPI. I am
>>currently the only prospective user, and don't need sendmail and a bunch
>>of that stuff. Just dev tools. 
>> 
>>Any comments on which Linux flavor to start with? I've read some jabs at
>>Fedora. Can't find a FAQ (after about 4 hours of searching) that really
>>discusses the pros and cons of each Linux variant related to Beowulf
>>clusters. I know religion is a hot topic, but please don't flame the
>>agnostic. :)
>> 
>>Jeff
>>    
>>
>
>I don't think this is addressed not because it gets religious but
>because you can do perfectly satisfactory clustering with any
>distribution.  Many or even most distributions support at least basic
>clustering (with PVM and MPI) right in the distribution itself, so it is
>just a matter of selecting the packages for installation and then
>learning to use them.  Of course all of them support raw network
>programming at the socket level.  Higher end cluster tools are often
>also available for many of the distributions or are at worst a rebuild
>away.
>
>Fedora core 1 had issues, but FC2 is working pretty well for us here,
>both on desktops and (so far) on cluster nodes including opterons.
>
>Centos (logo-free RHEL rebuild, stays within hours to days of RHEL at
>the logoless package level) should work as well as RHEL, obviously, and
>Red Hat itself (if you don't mind paying them on a per-node basis at
>fairly absurd rates) has always been a decent package to use for
>clustering.  SuSE ditto -- lots of turnkey vendors use SuSE as a basis.
>Mandrake ditto -- it has its (IIRC) "CLIC" cluster-specific packaging.
>In both of these latter two cases there are again issues of licensing
>and charges on a per node or per cluster basis.  On the non-RPM-based
>front, Debian is totally open and free and is certainly used in
>clusters.  On the non-linux (but still totally open source) front,
>freebsd is used successfully in clusters.
>
>There are a number of so-called "cluster distributions" to choose from
>as well.  OSCAR is an older one that I'm not sure is still being loved
>by anyone.  ROCKS is a newer one, built on top of (IIRC) a RH 9 (?)
>release and maybe moving towards centos or FC?  CLIC I mentioned.  Scyld
>is a commercial but very powerful and well-supported "beowulf in a box"
>distribution, I believe derived from a RH variant these days but am not
>sure.  Scyld can cost a lot for full support and everything, but for
>somebody doing what you are doing (basically learning/playing more or
>less out of pocket) they might give you a significant break.
>Clustermatic/bproc is a way of getting a lot of what scyld offers in
>a fully open source DIY way.  I'm probably leaving a bunch out -- 
>nice diskless cluster projects, smaller and lesser known linux variants
>(which would still work), Caosity...
>
>So you have a plethora of choices, and I'm not about to tell you which
>one is "best" as the answer is none of them -- they are mostly pretty
>good, with various constellations of advantages and disadvantages.
>
>Not to let any good opportunity for editorializing pass, though...
>
>....my major beef with most of the cluster distributions is that they
>really require one to bend the simplicity and scalability and
>customizability of repository-based, package-based installation and
>maintenance schema.
>
>In my opinion, the "best" way to install a cluster is from a repository
>via PXE and something like kickstart if not kickstart itself, where the
>only thing that differentiates a cluster node from a desktop workstation
>is the selection of packages installed and some post-install
>configuration.  An acceptable variant of this would be the newer
>diskless cluster approaches, provided that the exported/cloned node
>image is package-level controllable and can be kept up to date relative
>to a well-maintained mirror tree of repositories with a tool like yum or
>apt.
>
>This opinion extends down to some of the best known cluster packages,
>many of which are still distributed via tarball and #ifdef'd to hell and
>back or worse, built on top of evil such as e.g. aimk so they'll build
>on every single variant of Unixoid or non-Unixoid operating system known
>to mankind.  Tarball distribution (except to hackers or people working
>on the code) is Evil.  Heavy code instrumentation to cope with non-(e.g.
>posix)-compliant operating systems, ancient operating system, commercial
>operating systems with non-open or non-compliant libraries is Evil.
>Proper packaging is Good.  Compliance with standards (to the point where
>one has a clean build on an ANSI/POSIX system) is Very Good.  These
>things make it >>easy<< to move a package between linux distributions
>and permit linux distributions to be built and rebuilt without breaking
>like hell all over the place.
>
>RPM isn't perfect, but it isn't bad and it is in wide use and has smart
>people actively working on it to improve it further.  APT is similarly
>strongly driven by smart people, and the religious and technical
>differences between the two simply serve to keep both on their mettle
>ina competitive and evolutionary world (where in open source they can
>easily steal the best ideas of their competitors until one day maybe
>they converge -- or not).  Both are adequate as a basis of source level
>distribution of entire packages that can be easily rebuilt for specific
>distributions and repositories and purposes.  Alas some very useful
>cluster tools continue to eschew packaging (which would SIMPLIFY their
>build process and help them tremendously to debug their code and make it
>fully functional) and continue to waste energy getting their stuff not
>only to build, but to build after each little debugging change, from
>tarball, on thirty distinct systems, twenty of which are FUBAR at the
>library level and remain broken anyway.
>
>So (editorializing done) -- take a look at some of the stuff mentioned
>above or linked to the various main linux clustering sites.  If you want
>the "simplest" approach and are already experienced with some linux
>distro, just use that distro as a base and install clustering packages
>and get started that way fairly painlessly.  If you want full automation
>(and to devote a fair bit of time learning to use it) look hard at stuff
>like ROCKS.
>
>Hope this helps,
>
>   rgb
>
>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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>
>  
>

-- 
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---------------------------------------------------

Numerical Simulation: I see, I analyze, I recreate
 
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Unless specified, any opinion expressed in this
email is not that of NASA

---------------------------------------------------

Dr. Weijia Kuang, Geophysicist
 Space Geodesy Branch, Code 926
 NASA Goddard Space Flight Center
 Greenbelt, MD 20771
 Email: kuang at bowie.gsfc.nasa.gov
        Weijia.Kuang-1 at nasa.gov
 Tel: (301)614-6108
 Fax: (301)614-6099
 



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