[Beowulf] Practicality of a Beowulf Cluster

Mark Hahn hahn at mcmaster.ca
Fri Aug 28 07:57:26 PDT 2009

> So, I was thinking of making a cluster, but wondered: what are the
> practical uses of one?

I don't think you really mean practical here.  perhaps "commonplace"?

> I mean, you can't exactly run Windows on these
> things,

but why do you equate practical with "runs windows"?  a lot of the 
wider computer world doesn't run windows.  windows is mainly 
a low-end desktop, low-end server ghetto.  large, yes, but not the
best (or most "practical") by any measure.

> and it looks like they're mostly for parallel computing of
> complex algorithms.

do you mean parallel/complex makes beowulf of limited interest or niche?

> Would an average Joe like me have a use for a cluster?

do you use any websites?  any search engines?  beowulf and related 
technologies are all about scaling, so in a sense, anything big is 
a beowulf.  some may complain that this stretches the term, that 
"grid" or "cloud" should be used instead, but it's all the same concept.
a beowulf is a cluster, normally of x86 commodity parts, normally for 
compute-intensive research/engineering.  a render farm is basically 
the same but oriented towards making movies (IO intensive, but more 
"embarassingly" parallel.)  a grid means a cluster that's geographically
distributed and including multiple administrative domains (hence not 
suitable for tightly-coupled parallelism.)  a cloud is a grid-like 
facility usually implemented on top of VMs.

google/amazon/yahoo/etc are all, in this sense, beowulf-like clusters.
windows-based beowulf-like clusters are still beowulf-like - they're just 
knock-offs using a less appropriate OS.  programs on clusters tend not 
to be all that dependent on the "underware" (vs middleware) of the platform.

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