[Beowulf] MS Cray

Lux, James P james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Wed Sep 17 09:03:43 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.

--> then the seller is lying about no support required, and the buyer deserves what they get.  The real question is whether the box is more like a "super desktop PC" or a "supercomputer".. The former, by design, should have a fairly low admin overhead (i.e. the hardware configuration is fixed and stable, the OS ditto, relatively few applications on it).. The latter has a high SA overhead, because, by it's nature, it's used by a heterogenous group of folks running heterogenous applications which were all developed to stretch the limits. It's whether the new deskside box exhibits "the realities of HPC", or it's just a faster computer like the other ones.

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.

--> That's more of an education and management of expectations.

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.

---> then you're grossly underfunded and/or your institution is getting a great deal because you and your staff is making a herculean effort.  Typical support costs in industry run about $200-300/month per desktop (and that's for fairly vanilla installations).. 300*300 = $90K/mo = $1080K/yr -> 4-6 people.

 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.

-->> exactly.. Your operation is on the ragged edge of resources, so your organization really can't tolerate dropping in a new and different sort of box, at least within the desktop PC support model. But for an organization that already has, say, 10K machines, and the staff corresponding to the $30-40M/yr budget (e.g. a hundred people), adding a new flavor of box isn't as disruptive.  One of the horde can be detailed off to become the "new widget expert".

--> So perhaps your institution isn't really the appropriate target market (yet).. I don't see this as particularly different than any other new technology introduction.  When mainframes first entered the halls of academe, I'm sure the same sort of discussions arose.  Heck, it's why computers like the PDP-8 were invented.


More information about the Beowulf mailing list