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Advice on cluster hardware

Although this list seems to have been quiet recently, perhaps there are
some folks out there with wisdom to share.  I didn't turn up much in the

The group I am in is about to purchase a cluster.  If anyone on this
list has any advice on what type of hardware (or software) would be
best, I'd appreciate it.

We will have two broad types of uses: simulation studies for
epidemiology (with people or cases as the units) and genetic and protein
studies, with which I am less familiar.  The simulation studies are
likely to make heavy use of R.  I suspect that the two uses have much
different characteristics, e.g., in terms of the size of the datasets to
manipulate and the best tradeoffs outlined below.

Other uses are possible.

Among other issues we are wondering about:
*Tradeoffs between CPU speed, memory, internode communication speed,
disk size, and disk speed.

As a first cut, I expect the simulations suggest emphasizing processor
power and ensuring adequate memory.  On the other hand, the fact that
it's easy to upgrade CPUs suggests putting more money into the network
supporting the CPUs.  And I suspect the genomics emphasizes more the
ability to move large amounts of data around quickly (across network and
to disk).  

*Appropriate disk architecture (e.g., local disks vs shared netword
disks or SANS).  

32 vs 64 bit; Intel vs AMD.

We assume it will be some kind of Linux OS (we like Debian, but vendors
tend to supply RH and Debian lacks support for 64 bit AMD in any
official way, unlike Suse or RH).  If there's a good reason, we could
use something else.

Our budget is relatively modest, enough perhaps for 10-15 dual-processor
nodes.  We hope to expand later.

As a side issue, more a personal curiosity, why do clusters all seem to
be built on dual-processor nodes?  Why not more CPU's per node?

Thanks for any help you can offer.
Ross Boylan                                      wk:  (415) 502-4031
530 Parnassus Avenue (Library) rm 115-4          ross@biostat.ucsf.edu
Dept of Epidemiology and Biostatistics           fax: (415) 476-9856
University of California, San Francisco
San Francisco, CA 94143-0840                     hm:  (415) 550-1062

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