[Beowulf] newbie's dilemma

Don R. Baker donb at eps.mcgill.ca
Tue Feb 28 18:04:55 PST 2006

Hello All,

I am another newbie seeking more basic advice.  And from reading this
list over the past months I realize how little I have learned about
Beowulf systems from my readings and my few experiments with Parallel
Knoppix.  Nevertheless, let me get on with my question and stop wasting

I am performing embarrassingly parallel, Monte Carlo calculations, some
using integers and some using floating points (some written in C and
some written in FORTRAN), and I am tired of waiting for 4 months for my
dual Xeon 2.0 machine to finish a calculation.  So, I want to start off
with a dedicated COW (perhaps running OpenMosix or Sun's free Grid
software or something else) and later move to a true Beowulf system once
I learn to properly write parallel software. I have been a linux user
for 8 years, but consider myself to still be a beginner.  I have a room
with 4, 15 amp circuits and a 20 000 btu air conditioning unit installed
that I can use for the next 2 years, but after that I may need to find
another home for the system.

My dilemma is that for my budget I can buy one of the following

Solution #1
A custom built "personal cluster" with 8 dual core processors either
Xeons or Opterons (16 cores and 16 GB of memory) with all the software
installed, read to go. 

Solution #2
I can buy 16 workstations, each with Dual Core Athlon X64 4400+
processors (32 cores and 32 GB of memory) upon which I will probably
install either Warewulf or Oscar.  

Solution #3
I can buy 32 HP or Dell "mass market" desktops running dual core chips
(64 cores and 64 GB memory) upon which I will probably install either
Warewulf or Oscar.  (Note that I read the discussion this past November
on "cheap PCs this christmas")

Obviously, I get more computing power in the last two solutions, but at
what cost in terms of time and upkeep?  Once the system is up and
running I can dedicate about 5 hours per week, and probably no more, and
CAD$ ~500 per year for maintenance. 

Do any of you have some sage advice?  Have any of you used a "personal
cluster"?  Any thoughts you may have will be very much appreciated. 
Thank you all for your time.

Wishing you the best from a cool Montreal,

"Melting rocks today for a better tomorrow . . . "
Don R. Baker, Professor of Geochemistry, Earth and Planetary Sciences,
McGill University 3450 rue University, Montreal, QC Canada H3A 2A7  514-398-7485

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