[Beowulf] A Good Linux Distribution to Start with?

Steve Brenneis sbrenneis at surry.net
Thu Sep 9 18:56:18 PDT 2004

On Wed, 2004-09-08 at 17:00, 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

Depending on how adventurous you might be, you could consider building
your own Linux distribution from source. The caveats are:

1. Not for the faint-hearted. It is a time-consuming process and
provides ample opportunities for painful and sometimes fatal mistakes
(figuratively, not literally).

2. Requires quite a bit of in-depth knowledge of the basic structure of
*nix systems to be completely successful.

3. Requires a long-term commitment to maintaining your systems and
learning a lot about the various (myriad?) packages and their
interdependencies. This should not be taken lightly, see #1.

On the upside:

1. The result is a tight, compact system that fits your hardware and
your needs, not those of an imaginary cross-section of worldwide users
with wide varieties of hardware. Your O/S will occupy anywhere from 40%
to 50% of the disk space required by most prefab distributions.

2. You are not at the whims of the religious and political convictions
(again, figuratively) of the prefab distribution's developers. Some of
the distributions impose these ideas on their users to great detriment
(see also gcc 2.96).

3. You will come out of the process with quite a bit more knowledge of
Linux and its internals, no matter what your level of knowledge was
going in.

If you are interested in this path, check out www.linuxfromscratch.org.
It is a great resource for pursuing this avenue. And if you decide on
that choice -- Good Luck!
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Steve Brenneis <sbrenneis at surry.net>

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