[Beowulf] Anybody using Redhat HPC Solution in their Beowulf

Hearns, John john.hearns at mclaren.com
Tue Oct 26 01:16:47 PDT 2010

> I don't think you could find a statement more orthogonal to the spirit
> of the Beowulf list than, "Please, please don't "roll your own"
> system..."  Isn't Beowulfery about the drawing together of inexpensive
> components in an intelligent fashion suited just for your particular
> application while using standardized (and thereby cheap by the law of
> scale) hardware?  I'm not suggesting Richard build his own NIC - but
> there is nothing wrong with using even a distribution of Linux not
> intended for HPC (so long as you're smart about it) and picking and
> choosing the software (queuing managers, tracers, etc) he finds works
> best.
> Also, I would argue if a company is selling you an HPC solution, it's
> either:
> 1. A true Beowulf in terms of using COTS hardware, in which case you
> are
> likely getting less than your money is worth or

Ellis, I am going to politely disagree with you - now there's a

I have worked as an engineer for two HPC companies - Clustervision and
My slogan phrase on this issue is "Any fool can go down PC World and buy
a bunch of PCs"
By that I mean that CPU is cheap these days, but all you will get is a
bunch of boxes
on your loading bay. As you say, and you are right, you then have the
option of installing
Linux plus a cluster management stack and getting a cluster up and

However, as regards price, I would say that actually you will be paying
very, very little premium
for getting a supported, tested and pre-assembled cluster from a vendor.
Academic margins are razor thin - the companies are not growing fat over
academic deals.
They also can get special pricing from Intel/AMD if the project can be
justified - probably ending
up at a price per box near to what you pay at PC World.

Or take (say) rack top switches. Do you want to have a situation where
the company which supports your cluster
has switches sitting on a shelf, so when a switch fails someone (me!) is
sent out the next morning to deliver
a new switch in a box, cable it in and get you running?
Or do you want to deal direct with the returns department at $switch
vendor, or even (shudder) take the route
of using the same switches as the campus network - so you don't get to
choose on the basis of performance or
suitability, but just depend on the warm and fuzzies your campus IT
people have.

We then come to support - say you buy that heap of boxes from a Tier 1 -
say it is the same company your
campus IT folks have a campus wide deal with. You'll get the same type
of support you get for general
servers running Windows - and you'll deal with first line support staff
on the phone every time.
Me, I've been there, seen there, done it with tier 1 support like that.
As a for instance, HPC workloads tend to stress the RAM in a system, and
you get frequent ECC errors on 
a young system as it is bedding in. Try phoning support every time a
light comes on, and get talked through
the "have you run XXX diagnostic", it soon gets wearing.
Before Tier 1 companies cry foul, of course both the above companies and
all other cluster companies integrate
Tier 1 servers - but that is a different scenario from getting boxes
delivered through your campus agreement with

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