[Beowulf] Re: GPU boards and cluster servers.

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Tue Sep 9 15:23:38 PDT 2008

On Tue, 9 Sep 2008, Mark Hahn wrote:

> for small sites or individuals, it make a lot of sense (for the vendor)
> to try to filter out some of the randomness of support calls before
> committing a person.  of course, a good CRM system would help this - perhaps
> that's why RGB gets satisfaction from Dell...

It's not just me -- "Duke" does a lot of business with Dell.  A good
campus rep that you can call and talk to and who will drop the
Windowscrap from systems that "always" come with Windows via their
browser interface go a long way.

Don't get me wrong -- I'm not advertising Dell.  If anything, I'd
advertise Penguin as I like their nodes better than Dell's.  I'm just
stating that it isn't fair to cross off Dell from any consideration
because there is something "crazy" about buying from Dell.  I buy stuff
from Dell all the time.  Lots of departments at Duke, including
physics, get lots of stuff from Dell (not usually cluster nodes, but we
even have a few of those and don't AUTOMATICALLY refuse to consider

I've had mixed experiences with Dell.  As Greg pointed out somewhat
wryly, Dell laptops haven't been absolutely reliable -- IBMs in the past
have often been better built (although my M1530 seems rock solid,
compared to my past latitude and inspirons -- even the hinge is finally
"firm" instead of flimsy and compares well with my lenovo).  But Dell
has fixed them, quickly and with minimal hassle.

Overall, I'd give Dell a B in terms of hardware quality averaged over
many years -- not terrible, not the best (where Penguin would get an
easy A).  It would get an A in terms of service, where Penguin also gets
an A although it is really hard to tell when nothing really breaks.
Dells are a bit cheaper, IIRC from my last comparison, per expected
compute operation.  So one is left judging the marginal differential
cost of slightly more reliable hardware (saving human time and hassle
when it doesn't break) vs slightly cheaper hardware that MIGHT break
slightly more often.

Not a knee jerk decision.

> I _do_ wish it was a bit more common to have onsite spares.  not sure why 
> vendors (HP at least) don't like to do this.  maybe just that it might
> get kicked around or otherwise abused...

Partly this is a choice of the site admin.  Some things we "have" to
keep onsite, because e.g. disks now have to be formally destroyed by the
gods of privacy instead of returned to vendors so swap-out replacements
are forbidden anyway.  Others we keep onsite even though they are
warrantied because a spare is cheaper and faster than four hour response
service (even if we keep both on e.g. mission critical servers).
Cluster nodes we usually don't, simply because we'd use the spares
anyway as long as we had rackspace, right?  Why keep idle systems hot or
on a shelf?


> regards, mark hahn.
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Robert G. Brown                            Phone(cell): 1-919-280-8443
Duke University Physics Dept, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Web: http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb
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