[Beowulf] SGI to offer Windows on clusters

Mike Davis jmdavis1 at vcu.edu
Fri Apr 13 07:11:14 PDT 2007

I think think that the web based interface always seems like a better 
idea that it really is. We all have used the web, and we are comfortable 
with web applications. There are also a number of successfull web based 
scientific applications. But...

I see a web based submission system as an entry point. For a number of 
years I have managed web based bioinformatics applications (generally on 
SMP machines). I have found that they work best for more casual users. 
As research becomes more sophisticated the web interface is usually 
dropped in favor of a more powerful command line or alternately a 
request is made for a wrappper to handle the application from a 
simplified command line.

Mike Davis

laytonjb at charter.net wrote:

>I was thinking more along the lines of a cluster - not a grid. This makes the
>problem a bit easier. but as always the devil is in the details.
>My thought was to have a some sort of file system in the cluster (pick your
>poison) with the ability to mount it on the user's desktop (NFS, CIFS, or
>whatever). Then the user would create their input files and put them on the
>cluster storage (for the Windows users they just drag the directory to a new
>drive). Then they enter a URL in the browser, log-in, tell the browser which
>application they are using, where the files are located, how many processors
>they want, and off the job goes. They could also use the same webpage to
>track the jobs - how long has it been running, etc.? You could even put
>diagnostics in there - if the nodes swap then tell the user to try more processors
>next time to speed up the job. You can also report back statistics if you want
>to - how long the job took, how much IO was used, how much disk space was
>used, etc. This might not tell the novice user too much, but it might tell the
>admin something if there is a problem or it might tell the user or admin that in the
>future they might need a system with more IO, or a higher performing
>The reason that I like the browser idea is that virtually every potential cluster
>user has used a browser before. In most cases they have even used webmail
>or some sort of web site that requires logging in and entering data into a field.
>It's also very portable - it's web based.
>Maybe, it's just me, but I find this idea much better than just hitting a button
>that says "Run". This at least forces the user to think a bit about what they are
>doing instead of playing "Monkey hit the Button." There are examples of times
>when people should have taken a few moments to think about what they were
>doing instead of blindly just doing it. Plus, now it's not dependent on the ISV's
>putting a "Run" button in their GUI's (I'm amazed at the reluctance of ISV's to
>change virtually anything in their code base - but that's another rant :)  ).
>Perhaps I'm not thinking as broadly as Rich. But I see a web-base solution as a
>better idea than asking (or forcing) ISV's to put some new code in their applications
>to run on a cluster (BTW - in my experience some customers use the GUIs that
>come with ISV codes and some don't.).
>>On Thu, 12 Apr 2007, laytonjb at charter.net wrote:
>>>I really think the web interface is the way to go. This way you can submit jobs from
>>>any machine that has a browser (Linux, Windows, Mac, etc.).
>>Isn't that what gridware basically does already?  Doesn't SGE provide a
>>web interface to resources (a cluster) it controls?  Isn't that a
>>significant part of the point of the Globus project?  The ATLAS grid
>>(IIRC) uses a grid interface, more or less, to provide just this sort of
>>layer isolation between cluster/grid resource and the user.
>>There are problems with this, of course.  It is wonderful if the
>>grid/cluster already has a canned package installed, so that what the
>>user "submits" is a parametric dataset that tells the cluster how and
>>what to run with that package.  BLAST etc work fine this way and there
>>exist cluster/grids architected just this way for this purpose, from
>>what I can tell via google.  If you want to run YOUR source code on the
>>cluster from a different OS, however, well, that's a problem isn't it?
>>I think that there have been efforts to resolve even this -- ways of
>>submitting your source (or a functional binary) with build (or run)
>>instructions in a "package" -- I vaguely remember that ATLAS attempts to
>>implement a little horror called "pacman" for this purpose.  I leave to
>>your imaginations the awesome mess of dealing with library requirements,
>>build incompatibilities, mistaken assumptions, and worse across
>>architectures especially ones likely for people who write in MS C++ (or
>>a C downshift thereof) and expect it the source to "just run" when
>>recompiled on a linux box.
>>Practically speaking, for source code based applications if the user has
>>a linux box (or even a canned vmware linux development environment they
>>can run as a windows appliance -- and there are many of them prebuilt
>>and available for free so this is no longer that crazy a solution on a
>>moderately powerful windows workstation -- and sufficient linux
>>expertise to work through builds thereupon, they can develop binaries or
>>build packages that they can submit to a cluster via a web interface
>>that hides all cluster detail.  If not, then not.
>>Joe of course is building specific purpose clusters for many of his
>>clients and hence can successfully implement either canned software
>>solutions OR can manage the porting, building, preinstallation of the
>>client's software so that they can use it via a web-appliance interface.
>>Basically they purchase his expertise to do the code migration -- which
>>is again fine if the source is mature and unlikely to need a lot of
>>real-time tweaking and if they mostly want an appliance with which to
>>process a very large data space or parametric space a little at a time
>>(so "jobs" are parametric descriptions used to start up a task).
>>There are various other details associated with gridware and cluster
>>usage of this sort that make the idea "good" or "bad" per application.
>>If the application is bottlenecked by data access -- it processes huge
>>files, basically -- one can spend a lot of time loading data onto the
>>cluster via e.g. the web interface compared to a little time running the
>>application on the data, something that can perhaps be done more
>>smoothly and faster with a native shared disk implementation instead of
>>double hits on native disk on both ends plus a (probably slow) network
>>transfer.  Accessing other resources -- GUI access to the program being
>>run, for example -- similarly depends strongly on having the right hooks
>>on both ends.
>>    rgb
>>>>Here is a proactive suggestion for keeping open source
>>>>ahead of Microsoft CCS:
>>>>1. I think CCS will appeal to small shops with no prior cluster
>>>>    and no admin capability beyond a part time windows person.
>>>>2. such customers are the volume seats for a range of desktop
>>>>    CAD/CAE tools.
>>>>3. Such ISVs will see potential of license growth, and will
>>>>    likely choose to tie-in to the Microsoft message of ease-of-use.
>>>>    A big feature here, in my view, is the one-button-job-launch.
>>>>This means, for Linux to have a position as the backend
>>>>compute cluster, we must have this one button job launch
>>>>capability.  A Windows library must be available to
>>>>the ISV, to provide a job submission API  to the batch
>>>>scheduler.  With such a feature, the ISVs can be
>>>>persued to incoporate.
>>>>Ideally the job submission API is a kind of standard, so
>>>>the ISV does not see duplicate work versus the batch scheduler
>>>>a) we need a job submission API, and
>>>>b) we need the Windows library added to Linux batch schedulers.
>>>>    (I'm not saying the scheduler runs on Windows, we just need
>>>>    the submission/retrieve portion).
>>>>Does such exist already?
>>>>Thanks, Rich
>>>>Rich Altmaier, SGI
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>>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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