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InformationWeek: Scaling Supercomputers With Linux

Jul 14, 2001, 17:00 (2 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Aaron Ricadela)
"It's not easy trying to build scalable systems from commodity hardware designed for assembling desktop computers and small servers, though. "Lashing together tens or hundreds of thousands of processors isn't as easy as it appears when you apply it to real-world problems," says Gary Smaby, a supercomputing analyst and a principal of Quatris Fund, an investor in Unlimited Scale. As the number of CPUs in a Beowulf-style cluster-a group of PCs linked via Ethernet-increases and memory is distributed instead of shared, the efficiency of each processor drops as more are added.

Enter Oberlin. Unlimited's solution involves tailoring Linux running on each node in a cluster, rather than treating all the nodes as peers. The idea is to free some computers from getting bogged down in processing interrupt requests from peripherals, while letting a second set of machines run the full operating system, furnishing the cluster with networking, job scheduling, input/output, and other capabilities. Says Oberlin, "On application nodes, you want the operating system to get out of the way."

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