[Beowulf] Re: Young novice with a tight pocket book (stuffnstuff)

Ed Karns edkarns at firewirestuff.com
Sat Aug 13 10:54:21 PDT 2005

> Message: 3
> Date: Fri, 12 Aug 2005 13:09:25 -0500
> From: stuffnstuff <stuffnstuff7 at gmail.com>
> Subject: [Beowulf] Young novice with a tight pocket book
> ...
> I use my computer for massive rendering jobs regularily and wish there 
> were ways of giving it more speed. I am strongly considering putting 
> togethor a cluster, but I don't know the basic requirements. I have 
> read several guides on building a cluster, but none of them seem to 
> give the software and connection requirements.
>  Until I am corrected, I will be under the impression that I can run a 
> cluster with a master node using XP Home and sub-nodes using Windows 
> 98. Do I need to buy a new operating system? What do I need to 
> physically connect the computers. If I can conjure up a few old 
> computers that would barely be worth selling, is it worth building a 
> cluster? How do I physically do all this?
>  Sorry for being ill informed...
> ...

Make a shopping list. Visit all of your local technical resources 
first: recycling centers, school computer room storage closets, surplus 
electronic supply houses ... contact the facilities manager or systems 
guys at any local high technology manufacturer (you will be surprised 
how much equipment they have in the back room they just have not had 
the time to through away).
Suggestions for a cluster of "throw together systems" = clone boxes:

Chose your networking hardware first:
1) The most cost effective and easiest to implement is currently 
Ethernet 10/100baseT network interface cards (NIC). Look for a common, 
readily available brand name and model designation (3Com, DLink, 
Netware, etc.). Expect to pay $1 to $15 per interface card. Use PCI 
v.2.2 or better plug in cards. The temptation will be to use the built 
in motherboard network connections, but reliability and performance may 
suffer with some knock off chip sets. PCI plug in cards generally are 
more serviceable, more reliable and faster. (Go to 1000baseT NICs when 
the bucks become available.) Using a common brand name NIC on all 
systems will improve reliability and performance dramatically compared 
to a mixed bag of NICs.
2) Use shorter lengths of unshielded Ethernet cabling. Use only 
"factory made" Ethernet (RJ45) of lengths less than 15 to 30 feet (< = 
5 to 10 meters). Handmade cabling is usually the least reliable part of 
any Ethernet network = don't use 'em. Long lines produce lower 
3) No "daisy chains" ... building simple star topography will be best = 
equal weight / equal access / peer to peer in hardware. (A system 
failure in the middle of a daisy chain can be very hard to diagnose.)
4) Chose the best, fastest, 10/100/1000baseT, multi port switch you can 
find or afford. (One example: 
http://www.wband.com/Products/mJpgs/WB8-16G-M3-PRO.jpg  ... the better 
switches will work with coat hangers or barbed wire as cables, no 
kidding.) Use a "name brand" multi port switch ... for the best, most 
reliable, dynamic impedance matches. (A lower quality switch may work 
fine with a spaghetti of cables in the summer time, but low 
temperatures and high humidity plus the near by passage of a radio 
patrol car may produce "interesting questions".)
5) Get "filtered" power strips ... rather than the simple, unfiltered, 
cheaper plug strips. (The pros and cons of more exotic power 
conditioning may be saved for future discussions.)
6) Eventually, obtain a 19.5" equipment rack ... not immediately, but 
keep on the look out for a tall one. (I got mine for less than $20.)

Others will have additional comments, resources and information. The 
pursuit of excellence is ongoing ...

Ed Karns
(Networking systems since BC = Before Corvus)

More information about the Beowulf mailing list