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32BitsOnline: A Review of Building Linux Clusters

Sep 24, 2000, 06:06 (3 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dustin Puryear)

"It would be surprising if you haven't read or heard about the newest kid on the supercomputing block-Beowulf clusters. For those still in the dark, a "cluster" is a set of computers that work in tandem on a task. In the case of a Beowulf cluster, those computers run Linux and can be used to attack a math problem or to even provide high-availability file services. Beowulf clusters can be composed of anything from Intel 486 PC's to SPARC-based Sun servers. The only requirement is that all of the computers be running Linux and be located on a network."

"For those interested in building a Beowulf cluster the only real resources have been web-based. For example, there are several pages hosted by NASA, the creator of Beowulf clusters, that detail the setup and configuration of Beowulf clusters. However, these resources rarely delve into the more mundane tasks required of a Beowulf administrator or user. For example, have you considered whether your computer room (or perhaps your bedroom) can actually provide enough power for your cluster? How about whether the floor can actually support the weight of several computers vertically mounted? Obviously, something else was needed to address these issues."

"In order to address the concerns of those wishing to build Beowulf clusters O'Reilly and Associates published Building Linux Clusters, written by David Him Spector. The stated goal of Building Linux Clusters is to be a "primer for the veteran Linux programmer who wants to take the first steps into parallel computing." However, after reading the book you will find that the goal would have been more appropriately stated as, "a primer for the veteran Linux administrator who wants to take the first steps into parallel computing" because Building Linux Clusters does not really cover programming or algorithm design as it pertains to parallel computing applications. Rather, the book gives a very detailed and useful overview of what a Beowulf cluster is, how to plan one, how to build it based on that plan, what factors to consider, and what tools are available for use on a cluster.

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