[Beowulf] Why I want a microsoft cluster...

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Mon Nov 28 10:07:42 PST 2005

At 08:11 AM 11/28/2005, Robert G. Brown wrote:
>On Wed, 23 Nov 2005, Jim Lux wrote:
>>At 05:15 PM 11/23/2005, Joe Landman wrote:
>If one DOES consider a NOW-type cluster then a whole RAFT of security
>issues exist WinXX, but they are ones you have to handle anyway.  There
>are fewer issues for linux -- see below -- but...
>   b) a WinXX NOW cluster is a possibility that VERY DEFINITELY exists
>and is potentially profitable to a WinXX shop, BTW.  To help out your
>diabolical advocacy, consider the following.
>A mythical organization has 1000 mythical WinXX desktops running email
>clients, screen savers, Office tools, and a browser.  These systems are
>already installed, managed (well or badly), secured (well or badly),
>patched (ditto), and are effectively idle nearly all of the time even
>when somebody is sitting at their console and typing furiously.  For
>most users, each successive boost in CPU speed just increases the
>already astronomical number of NoP cycles the system spends per cycle of
>actual work done processing a keystroke or mouse click.

Essentially, this might be the Seti at home model.. but instead of running the 
Seti widget, the new "screen saver" would pull the next work quanta from 
the queue.

>That is, MS "could" sell a "cluster tool" that is basically nothing but
>an integrated, policy-driven job distribution tool so that a user on any
>(authenticated, permitted) one of these 1000 systems on a standard LAN
>can submit a job stream and have it farmed out to the "free" cluster of
>idle desktops according to institutional policy.  A nice little cluster
>management tool would let top level managers set that policy and give
>them that warm fuzzy feeling of control.

And this is essentially what Windows Cluster Server 2003 is:
a set of management tools.. basically preconfigured scripts/etc to help with:
  RIS - Remote Installation Services (what the rest of the world does with 
PXE, etc.)
  AD - Active directory (authentication)
  SMS - software config management for nodes (which does work silently in 
the background at night fairly well, although I don't have first hand 
knowledge of how much mangement labor is invoved)
  MOM - job and batch queueing, etc.
  MMC - the usual collection of system configuration tools

a MPI implmentation, including the hooks into Visual Studio (I haven't 
installed it, but it's conceivable that they give you cute little tokens to 
drag and drop to represent the pieces of MPI functionality)

a parallel debugger in Visual Studio

and that's all..

Note well: "...which is designed to address the high-performance computing 
needs of its customers, particularly at the departmental and workgroup 
levels."  Clearly NOT targeting the dedicated dreadnought scale clusters.

(I didn't read far enough to see if WCS2003 includes the recently described 
WindowsShareYourPain (WSYP) capability... one hopes that it does)

>At Duke our campus IT security person is just happy as a clam about
>linux because linux at duke installs itself in an auto-updating pull mode
>that yum resync's to the campus repository(s) every night.  Linux boxes
>on campus therefore get security updated even if the owner knows
>"nothing" about security, and toplevel management has to control and
>defend a single set of toplevel servers to keep it that way.  NOBODY is
>happy about WinXX from a security point of view.  Updating isn't done
>nightly and transparently, where (in linux) most users never are even
>aware that their system has been updated and patched or that the
>application they run today isn't the same as the one that they ran
>yesterday because a bug they hadn't ever encountered is now fixed.

There are a number of Windows shops that do similar things using SMS,  and 
I venture to guess that *most* users are totally unaware that things have 
changed in the night.

>Updating Windows is done rarely, after testing, and with great
>trepidation because it can do anything from breaking nothing to breaking
>everything to breaking SOME things.  Nightmarish is a reasonable term
>for it.

Depends a whole lot on the environment.  In an environment where every user 
is running different sorts of applications, of various provenances, this is 
true.  In a regimented corporate environment where everyone is running the 
same versions of the same half dozen applications, less so.

>The killer is middleware -- accounting applications, office (non-Office)
>applications, personnel management applications, database applications,
>integrated applications.  There are CHOICES out there for Windows --
>many of them quite expensive, of course, but they are there.  There
>aren't a lot of choices there for linux.  Either there is an open source
>effort or there is nothing.  If there IS and OS effort, either it works
>and is supported pretty well and can be implemented without a lot of
>hackery or (for most organizations) there is nothing.  This is a bigger
>issue for small and midsized corps than it is for large ones -- the
>large ones have the opportunity cost systems programmer time required to
>do the hackery/glue to make the OS solutions work, the smaller ones need
>shrinkwrap solutions.  Either one can use consultants to make up the
>difference, but there is a cost here as well.

Indeed... and that's where a lot of the problem lies.. Many companies have 
evolved to a software configuration of a number of off the shelf (windows) 
applications carefully (and expensively) glued together and 
configured.  And, the software development market isn't going after the 
Linux (or Mac) markets with any gusto.  You're a company with a whizbang 
General Ledger and Customer Relations Management idea... you have limited 
resources, so you're going to put those to where you get the most sales, 
and that's windows.  You sign up a bunch of authorized consultants and 
dealers to do the configurations and end user support(drawing on the proven 
Microsoft Consulting Services/Microsoft Solutions Provider sales model... 
I've got my MSP plaque at home somewhere in a box) for your $50K software 

A company in this scenario is going to be real loathe to change to the 
relative unknown of Linux (better the devil you know!!).  The Win solution 
may have its problems, but, in the overall context, the pain of changing is 
less than the pain of staying in the relationship.

>If/when linux solves the device driver issue, one major barrier to
>linux-only or linux growth at the direct expense of winsux in mixed
>environments goes away.  If/when consultancies like Joe's branch out
>into the corporate middleware market and/or start to market software
>(maybe even CLOSED source software) for linux at the corporate level,
>another one goes away.  Then we'll see what happens.

It's gonna be tough....  The economics and your investors are going to push 
strongly to the MS world.. that's where the buyers are.


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