[Beowulf] Re: "hobbyists"

Tim Cutts tjrc at sanger.ac.uk
Tue Jun 24 09:46:17 PDT 2008

On 23 Jun 2008, at 7:41 pm, Kyle Spaans wrote:

> On Fri, Jun 20, 2008 at 03:33:19PM -0400, Lawrence Stewart wrote:
>> More specifically for HPC, linux seems designed for the desktop, and
>> for small memory machines.
> That's funny, because I've heard people get scared that it was the  
> complete opposite. That Linux was driven by Big Iron, and that no  
> one cared about the "little desktop guy" (Con Kolivas is an  
> interesting history example).

I think it depends on which bit of "Linux" you're talking about.  I  
think Lawrence was really referring to the kernel (<pedantic  
mode="Stallman">Which is of course the only bit that can actually be  
called Linux anyway</pedantic>).  The impression is indeed the other  
way around when you look at the whole distribution, which is easier to  
target at server tasks than it is at a novice desktop user, and  
attempts to make the desktop really accessible to non-nerds are still  
very much in their infancy, IMHO.

I guess the kernel really was developed for desktop machines, if we  
consider the sort of thing people did with Linux back in 1992 (which  
is when I first used it).  Later people realised they could use this  
to save a bunch of money on big-iron traditional server tasks, and it  
did very nicely thank-you, and no-one really cared whether the  
performance was top-notch.  After all, performance per dollar was  
superb (and still is).

Even now, our little HPC community are probably pretty much the only  
people who really care that much about the performance of the OS  
kernel itself.  Oh, OK, maybe some of the embedded guys do as well,  
given they're trying to run it on really tiny hardware.

And in my little corner of the HPC world, genomics, where the vast  
majority of the crap run on my clusters is written in perl, python,  
ruby, java and R, I find it pretty difficult to get too worked up  
about kernel performance, memory latencies and cache miss rates.  It's  
fairly irrelevant when I can't even get users to write code in a  
compiled language, where they can even attempt to control the layout  
of data in memory and get performance close to anything I would  
consider acceptable.

<yorkshiremen number="4">You guys don't realise how lucky you are</ 
yorkshiremen>  :-)


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