[Beowulf] A couple of interesting comments

Gerry Creager gerry.creager at tamu.edu
Fri Jun 6 08:39:47 PDT 2008

We recently purchased a set of hardware for a cluster from a hardware 
vendor.  We've encountered a couple of interesting issues with bringing 
the thing up that I'd like to get group comments on.  Note that the RFP 
and negotiations specified this system was for a cluster installation, 
so there would be no misunderstanding...

1.  We specified "No OS" in the purchase so that we could install CentOS 
as our base.  We got a set of systems with a stub OS, and an EULA for 
the diagnostics embedded on the disk.  After clicking thru the EULA, it 
tells us we have no OS on the disk, but does not fail to PXE.

2.  BIOS had a couple of interesting defaults, including warn on 
keyboard error (Keyboard?  Not intentionally.  This is a compute node, 
and should never require a keyboard.  Ever.)  We also find the BIOS is 
set to boot from hard disk THEN PXE. But due to item 1, above, we never 
can fail over to PXE unless we load up a keyboard and monitor, and hit 
F12 to drop to PXE.

In discussions with our sales rep, I'm told that we'd have had to pay 
extra to get a real bare hard disk, and that, for a fee, they'd have 
been willing to custom-configure the BIOS. OK, with the BIOS this isn't 
too unreasonable: They have a standard BIOS for all systems and if you 
want something special, paying for it's the norm...  But, still, this is 
a CLUSTER installation we were quoted, not a desktop.

Also, I'm now told that "almost every customer" ordered their cluster 
configuration service at several kilobucks per rack.  Since the team I'm 
working with has some degree of experience in configuring and installing 
hardware and software on computational clusters, now measured in at 
least 10 separate cluster installations, this seemed like an unnecessary 
expense.  However, we're finding vendor gotchas that are annoying at the 
least, and sometimes cause significant work-around time/effort.

Finally, our sales guy yesterday was somewhat baffled as to why we'd 
ordered without OS, and further why we were using Linux over Windows for 
HPC.  Not trying to revive the recent rant-fest about Windows HPC 
capabilities, can anyone cite real HPC applications generally run on 
significant clusters (I'll accept Cornell's work, although I remain 
personally convinced that the bulk of their Windows HPC work has been 
dedicated to maintaining grant funding rather than doing real work)?

No, I won't identify the vendor.
Gerry Creager -- gerry.creager at tamu.edu
Texas Mesonet -- AATLT, Texas A&M University
Cell: 979.229.5301 Office: 979.862.3982 FAX: 979.862.3983
Office: 1700 Research Parkway Ste 160, TAMU, College Station, TX 77843

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