[Beowulf] Win64 Clusters!!!!!!!!!!!!

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Mon Apr 2 11:22:56 PDT 2007

On Mon, 2 Apr 2007, Douglas Eadline wrote:

>> Hi All,
>> Would any of you please like to share usage-experience/views/comments
>> about Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 based Beowulf Clusters?
> As a point of clarification, there is no such thing
> as a "Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 based Beowulf Clusters"
> This link may help:
> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beowulf_cluster
>> What in your opinion is the future of such clusters?
>> How you compare these with the LINUX CLUSTERS?

Allow me to assume the Lotus position (as best as my creaky old joints
permit).  A few words of mantra to calm my spirit and purge the Daemons
that afflict it whenever "Windows" is mentioned.  A swig of beer to help
calm them still more:-).

There.  I'm ready now.

They compare with linux clusters by being:

   * Expensive (per seat) for licenses, if one respects that sort of

   * Heavily commercial in application orientation.

   * Closed source -- if and where they don't work, you won't be able to
fix them, tune them, alter them in any way.

   * Did I mention expensive?

It is alleged that using it, it will be miraculously simpler to set up
and configure to turn a pile of PCs into a cluster and then reliably run
at least certain classes of largely commercial cluster applications, and
that the ease of management will pay for the expense.

It is my belief that this allegation is generally false, although in
specific cases (e.g. shops that have no linux experience whatsoever and
immensely deep pockets) it may be true when the marginal cost of a
linux-skilled human (or training up one of your MSCEs to become
linux-skilled) exceeds the marginal cost of a Windows cluster compared
to a linux cluster.

Linux clusters these days can be set up and built with a fairly minimal
skillset, so the true economic marginal benefit is dubious.  As in I
routinely remotely advise students ranging from bright high school
students in computer clubs to graduate students in various disciplines
(not necessarily computer science) all over the world (for example, I
currently have 2-3 groups I am directly advising in India).  All of
these student groups manage to craft functional linux clusters, often
out of old and decrepit parts that (from what I hear) Vista would laugh
at hysterically, perhaps, but never run on.  If a bright high school
student can manage to rig up a working linux cluster, one certainly
HOPES that an MCSE can manage it on opportunity cost time in nearly all

Furthermore, it is quite trivial to set up linux clusters that boot
diskless these days (and hard to beat diskless boot systems for easy of
management), and it has finally become fairly easy to set up virtual
clusters for embarrassingly parallel programs using e.g. Xen or VMware.
One can go to the vmware website and -- for free -- download a windows
player and virtual ready to run "instant cluster" environment and run a
linux cluster node as a windows subtask.  In this way once VMware itself
is installed and configured as a good old Windows task there is NO
configuration, installation, setup (beyond creating a virtual network so
nodes can find one another).

One isn't even forced to choose between Win and Lin clusters -- one can
do both at the same time and simply decide which one your hardware will
be today, with the caveat that node costs scale UP with Win and DOWN
with Lin.

With all that said, my opinion on the future of Win clusters is that
they probably have one.  With the advent of Universal System
Virtualization (at the CPU hardware level) we are on the threshold of a
new era in computing, one where the barrier between operating
environments lowers to almost nothing.  Microsoft has little choice but
to participate in this or risk being badly hurt by free Linux
environments that will run Windows as a virtual task "out of the box".
They could find themselves in three years as being known as the most
expensive linux desktop environment if they don't at least try to make
linux one of Windows' least expensive desktop environments (that comes
with order of ten to twenty thousand software packages ready to run).

And in server environments the pressure is even greater -- people are
eager to shrink their server environment to where hardware utilization
is optimized instead of having one or more mostly idle servers per
application, as is the RULE in Win server shops.  Virtualize or die.

So we'll just have to see where the chaos this creates takes us.  I
predict a wild ride for the next 60 months.  Single server boxes with
4-8 cores, lots of memory, and running as many as 16 to 20 distinct
server environments on top of 2-3 distinct operating systems are not out
of the question.  Windows cluster environment has the first 24 months of
that to grow without that dominating everything, but from 36 months out
my crystal ball gets very, very fuzzy.  All I can say is that everybody
needs to start learning to do their Xen Meditations...;-)


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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