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

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Tue Apr 10 12:45:19 PDT 2007

On Mon, 9 Apr 2007, John Hearns wrote:

> I disagree, strangely enough.
> Bob Brown has mentioned in this thread that the 'tipping point' for him came 
> with the PII or PIV when code ran faster than big RISC machines.
> I'll throw into the mix that nearly all 'big science' applications at the 
> time ran on VMS or mainframe OSes, or supercomputers (Cray or CDC).
> At the time, Unix was seen by scientists as an OS for longhairs and computer 
> science types.
> Along comes the Intel i386 architecture, and just as importantly for 
> scientific computing, the DEC Alpha. Scientists see a big price/performance 
> gain with the Alpha architecture.
> But what did they both run - Windows NT. And remember that NT was developed 
> by the man hired by Microsoft from DEC.
> So at one point in history there was a prospect of having a unified OS 
> running on everything from the desktop (i386) through to the Alpha powered 
> job farms to the MIPS powered big SMP machines.
> Purely personal opinion, but I believe that Microsoft missed a big trick by 
> dropping Alpha support for NT.
> The other tipping point came with SunOS/Solaris.
> A C compiler came bundled with SunOS (I'm not sure of my facts here, but as I 
> recall free for academic use). With the switch to Solaris the compiler became 
> a paid-for extra. In my experience, it caused the group I Was working with to 
> look seriously at the Gnu C compiler for the first time, and with it the rest 
> of the GNU tools.

As I mentioned earlier today (and several days late into the discussion)
I think that the development of PVM was ultimately more important than
hardware architecture.  People had long since found ways of building
clusters out of any compute resource that they had more than one of,
even lacking a network between them.  A network (something that was
nearly perfectly co-developed with Unix -- to the extent where one has
to wonder if Unix was every more than "the operating system that
happened to be the basis for the scalably designed, WA-routable
network";-) just made it easier for EP codes, but provided no real
threat to big-iron vector machines.

It was PVM that enabled true message passing parallel code to be written
that made a pile of machines (be they Alphas, simple PCs, Sun
workstations, Decstation 3100's, Cray YMPs, SGI Irises, IBM RS6000s)
into "a parallel supercomputer" that exhibited clear near-linear speedup
for a wide range of medium to coarse grained computations back in the
early to mid 90's (which was still very late 386, late 486, and early to
mid Pentium days, where floating point operations sucked on the Pentium
-- giving rise to a previously ignorable company called American Micro
Devices whose "5" chip had floating point that sucked less, and cost
less, recall).

However you are dead right about MS and Sun missing any number of boats.
MS knifed IBM over OS/2 (which was a decently designed OS that might
have given Unix a real run for its money) and hence lost out on all the
technology and advances that OS/2 had going for it.  Sun -- well, where
to begin.  They had the world to give away, and proceeded to give it
away.  It wasn't just unbundling their c compiler -- everything about
Solaris was evil, and unnecessarily evil at that.  SunOS went from
outperforming the hardware it was running on and being one of the
smoothest multitasking systems I ever used to being Slow-aris, with the
broken scheduler from hell and a complete inability to talk and chew gum
at the same time.  And Sun had a perfectly viable X86 Unix in the early
90's and chose to sell it for exorbitant amounts to protect its SPARC
line instead of mass-market it at $50 a seat while seducing PC
developers to write their first true multitasking "windowing"
applications for sunview or X.  If they had done the latter, Linux might
never have come into existence, NT might have been MS's last non-Unix
operating system version, and I might be bemoaning Sun's
world-dominating monopoly.

I must say, though, that you have the wrong idea about scientists.  My
kids regularly make fun of my near-complete lack of hair, not it
excessive length...;-)



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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