[Beowulf] MS Cray

Mike Davis jmdavis1 at vcu.edu
Wed Sep 17 07:06:08 PDT 2008

Lux, James P wrote:
>     But how is that any different than having a PC on your desk?
>     I see the deskside supercomputer as a revisiting of the
>     “workstation” class computer. Used to be that PCs and Apples were
>     what sat on most peoples desks, but some had Apollo or Sun or Perq
>     workstations, because they had applications that needed the
>     computational horsepower (or, more likely, the high res hardware
>     graphics support.. A CGA was pretty painful for doing PC board
>     layout).
>     Same sort of thing for having the old Tektronix 4014 graphics
>     terminal, rather than hiking down to the computer center to pick
>     up your flatbed plotter output.
>     Jim


One big difference is that this machine will be sold to department 
chairs and Deans not as a desktop or high end workstation but as a cheap 
"Supercomputer" that needs no support. The PC support available in an 
organization may be completely unable to deal with the realities of HPC. 
That's when I get an urgent call about a machine that I don't know 
about. The clock started ticking the day that the machine arrived and 
that's the impossible timetable to which I will be held. In other words, 
even with my absolute full attention my efforts will be presented as 
failing to set up the machine in a timely manner. In addition all of the 
other researchers who have invested in the centralized resources will 
complain that they are not getting the attention that they need.

I think that there are times that machines such as this on a 
departmental or even researcher level make sense even in an organization 
that provides central resources. But those times are the exceptions. I 
have 2.5 System Admins. I have ~300 machines in two different locations 
as standalone servers and parts of clusters. We can get by with this 
level of staffing through standardization of hardware and operating 
systems (currently 90% linux, 9% Solaris, 1% IRIX), security standards 
that lock down unused ports and services, and careful testing of 
software (physical sciences, math, OR, bioinformatics) before it is made 
generally available. With budget cuts looming on the horizon, adding 
support for new department level systems without additional staffing 
would leave us unable to continue to provide adequate support for the 
central systems. IMHO. YMMV.

Mike Davis			Technical Director
(804) 828-3885			Center for High Performance Computing
jmdavis1 at vcu.edu		Virginia Commonwealth University

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."  George S. Patton

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