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Smart Partner: Strength In Numbers - Beowulf ties multiple systems into a shared resource cluster

Dec 24, 2000, 14:45 (0 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Bill Nicholls)

"What is beowulf? in this context, it's not the epic poem describing the adventures of a great Scandinavian warrior in the sixth century. Instead, Beowulf is a small set of open-source technologies that tie multiple Linux or FreeBSD systems into a shared resource cluster. How those resources are shared and the specific setup and software required depends largely upon what you want to do. Beowulf clusters are typically used for parallel processing of complex problems and have gained the title of "Poor Man's Supercomputer."

"Clusters of computers are commonly used these days to build reliable Web and file servers, but these are not Beowulf clusters. There's a subtle, but important distinction here. In clusters that support reliability and scaling for a server farm, the applications are replicated on each node, and a redundant control system (such as a load-balancing switch) routes messages to the appropriate node based on one or several load-sharing algorithms, such as round-robin or least-used nodes. Beowulf clusters have applications that are divided across the cluster nodes and run in parallel, exchanging messages between nodes to keep the overall computation in synchronization...."

"But building a Beowulf cluster does not automatically enable faster processing. It is usually necessary to modify the source and recompile it with PVM or MPI calls to exchange data between the separate systems. The old standby Fortran is better for this than C or C++, because C uses pointers that cannot be automatically parallelized."

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