[Beowulf] Windows cluster

Joe Landman landman at scalableinformatics.com
Thu Sep 8 10:25:55 PDT 2005

Hi Ricky:

rrankin wrote:
> We have just taken deliver of a windows cluster.

Interesting.  We don't see too many of these.

> Master node connected to network and 8 64bit Xeon nodes on private cluster
> network.


> While the system will be used to develop and run parallel programs,
> Fluent...., one of the primary reasons for setting up the system is to
> assist academics with low power systems on their desktop to run pacakages
> such as Matlab, Mathematica, SAS ...

For parallel application development, you are going to need some sort of 
MPI setup.  You have a number of choices.  Most of them will cost you 
money.  On the linux side you also have choices (more of them in fact), 
and they won't require money unless you want the support that goes along 
with them.

Under windows, I have been able to get mpich 1.2.6 to compile under 
Cygwin (though it was not trivial).  It works as long as I pretend my 
single machine has N CPUs ... (e.g. you cannot easily run an rsh/ssh 
daemon on the machine for p4 style ethernet connections using MPICH).

 From a bigger picture perspective, windows may not be the right choice 
for this sort of system, unless there is an absolute dependency upon an 
application which will only run on windows.  We haven't seen too many of 
those in the HPC world.  It is much easier (IMO) to provision and manage 
a Linux or similar system for HPC than it is a windows system, not 
simply from the GUI vs command line view, but from the sheer number of 
things you have to turn off on the windows box in order to make it 
safe/secure for cluster computing.  Aside from that, having a per 
access/per node virus checker/filter running while your application is 
running is a really sure way to waste processing cycles better spent on 
your application.

> In Linux clsuters the appliactions are held in one area. Does each node of a
> windows cluster need to have a copy of each application?

This is a general "best practice".  Saves you lots of pain.  I might 
consider creating an \\headnode\apps share that the internal network can 
see.  Of course, when you install applications on windows, they happily 
put stuff where-ever they want, and take your install directory as a 
mere suggestion (massive hint to anyone at MSFT who may be listening), 
while populating your registry ...  At best it is a gamble as to whether 
or not this will work under windows.

> How doe users access each node - terminal services?

Ok... windows has a *very* different view of the universe as compared to 
Linux.  In this view of the universe, everything that is a daemon in 
Linux should be a "service" in Windows.  Unless every node is running 
terminal services, you would want them running from the head node. This 
has lots of (nasty) implications for how a cluster is used.  You could 
try to run an rsh/login/ssh daemon on every node.  This is non-trivial.

MPI (the pay-money versions) under windows sets up a service for job 
launch.  I don't know what the restrictions on this are, depends upon 
which one you buy.

> Would be interested in access to a 'dummies' guide to establishing a windows
> cluster

You should contact the Cornell Theory Center folks.  They have (one of 
the very few) windows clusters around, and lots of experiences 
running/building/managing them.  If you must stick with windows, I would 
suggest you look at that route.  If you have the freedom to use Linux on 
the cluster, there are many *trivial* to setup cluster installations, 
such as Rocks, Warewulf, and a few others like Oscar.

By combining a number of Linux based technologies together with windows 
clients, we have cusotmers happily using/managing their linux clusters 
from their windows desktops without knowing a thing about linux.  This 
appears to be an operational direction for a number of groups.

> Ricky 
> __________________
> Ricky Rankin
> Principal Analyst
> Information Services
> Queen's University Belfast
> Tel: 02890 974824
> Fax: 02890 335073
> email: r.rankin at qub.ac.uk
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Joseph Landman, Ph.D
Founder and CEO
Scalable Informatics LLC,
email: landman at scalableinformatics.com
web  : http://www.scalableinformatics.com
phone: +1 734 786 8423
fax  : +1 734 786 8452
cell : +1 734 612 4615

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