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Re: How to build Debian Linux cluster?

Hi Sasha.

>  My colleagues who usually work on X-terminals noticed certain advantages of 
> PC compared to X-terminal and basically the idea is instead of buying extra 5 
> X-terminals to buy 5 PC.  I think I understand how to maintain single-computer
> system, but I have very little experience with clusters.

Well, welcome to the club.  We made the decision about six months ago to
replace our X-terms with Linux boxes.  The `pilot' project was to build a
small cluster of Debian Linux boxes that serve as terminals for a classroom
and general use during the day, and as a compute engine at night and weekends.

To make a long story short, we have had enough success that we are now 
replacing the remaining X-terms in the building with PCs running Linux.

> 1. What is better: one powerfull central computer surrounded by many little 
> ones?  OR democratic society of equal computers?

I cannot answer this from personal experience, but we have the democratic
version running off of a 100 Mbps switch with MPI, PVM, all that stuff and it
seems to do a good job.  Can't hold a candle to our SP2, but the cluster is
running ;)

> 2. Is it easy to "clone" debian systems?  How should one maintain it? 

I did this the relatively hard way... one machine at a time.  Even so, I got 
to where I could start with a machine in a box and have it a fully functional
component in the cluster within 2 hours.  I have since found out listening
to this list that the dpkg utility helps to make this chore a lot simpler,
if you learn to use the command line interface (silly me).

> 3. What are the recommendations about hardware specific to clusters would you
> make?

If you want to do parallel computation (I assume that's why you are
clustering them) you gotta minimize communication costs.  We are still in
the process of working the bugs out of our network, but production speeds
went way up once we moved from 10 Mbps half duplex hubs to a 100 Mbps full
duplex switch.

> 4. Any useful resources on this matter?  (Basically how to approach the 
> problem).

I've seen several responses point you to Beowulf.  Check it out.  We
decided that it didn't offer anything concrete above and beyond what could
be built without it (anybody out there who knows better, let me know...

Good luck!


Ken Summers
Albuquerque High Performance Computing Center
The University of New Mexico

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