[Beowulf] MS Cray

Tony Travis ajt at rri.sari.ac.uk
Wed Sep 17 14:00:11 PDT 2008

Tim Cutts wrote:
> On 17 Sep 2008, at 2:22 pm, 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.

Hello, Jim and Tim.

I agree with you, Jim - I used to do a lot of image analysis, and I had 
a 'Torch' VME 68030 workstation on my desk, followed by a Sun SPARC10...

> We don't generally allow people here to buy their own PCs and Apples 
> either.  They get a standard build from us, all centrally managed by 
> LanDESK.  They also get a known type of hardware; they can't just buy 
> what the hell they like. I have more than 800 Windows desktops to 
> support.  If they were all different and purchased ad-hoc by individual 
> users, I would be in even worse hell than I am already.

Poacher turned gamekeeper, Tim?

If you want a 'standard' locked-down desktop go to PC hell. If you 
don't, then support it yourself - What's the problem?

> Most people don't build Beowulf clusters out of ad-hoc piles of machines 
> from God-knows-where.  Most of us buy consistent hardware, because it's 
> impossible to support anything else.

No, some of us are still part of the rebel alliance - building Beowulf 
clusters out of anything we can beg, borrow or steal to do the science 
that we are interested in. Were those DEC Alpha's you had 'consistent' 
hardware, or did you just buy a new generation of IBM blade servers to 
replace them after you decided to buy 'consistent' hardware?

I've got all sorts of kit ranging from Athlon XP 2400+ to Opteron 2212's 
in our Beowulf cluster and they are all doing a worthwhile job. I doubt 
that my situation is unique. As the saying goes "It's not having what 
you want that matters, but wanting what you have..." ;-)

> The Tektronix graphics terminal is slightly different, because it was 
> just that, a terminal, and consequently doesn't present such a headache.

You know what really makes my blood boil is being criticised for using 
'non-standard' PC's, Mac's... whatever because "it can't be supported", 
when I have never wanted or needed support! I'm all in favour of people 
who DO want a 'managed' desktop having a standard-issue PC running the 
evil empire's wares, but ONLY if that's what the end user wants. Yes, 
I've done PC support and I do have experience of the issues involved.

So, back to the point, I'm very much in favour of the 'democratisation' 
of HPC as manifested by DIY Beowulf clusters and affordable desk-side 
horse-power. HPC on BIG-IRON is not under the control of scientists who 
want to use it. That's why they use 'discretionary' budgets to buy the 
sort of kit Orion tried to sell, Apple do sell and Cray are pushing onto 
the 'personal' HPC market. Indeed, Moshe Bar was so convinced that this 
was the way to go that he ended the openMosix project [tears].

Hmm... back to earth now - needed to get that off my chest :-)

Dr. A.J.Travis, University of Aberdeen, Rowett Institute of Nutrition
and Health, Greenburn Road, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, Scotland, UK
tel +44(0)1224 712751, fax +44(0)1224 716687, http://www.rowett.ac.uk
mailto:ajt at rri.sari.ac.uk, http://bioinformatics.rri.sari.ac.uk/~ajt

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