Thursday, May 14, 2009

Poor Man's Cluster - Step 0

Poor Man's Cluster - Step 0
Topic: LinuxClusters

Yes, Virginia, you too can setup and use a cluster of your very own!
I call this Step 0, rather than Step 1, as I don't have as much say over what hardware is installed in my classroom as I once did.  I deal mainly with firmware and software nowadays!  In the olden days (mid 1980s to late 1990s) this was not the case - I was the tech dept!  In any event, I've been involved in recommending what goes into this classroom since 1985! 
Case in point, I left last June with a cluster of 25 Dell GX280s which had Pentium IVs running at 2.4 GHz.  When I came back to school this past Sept, I was greated with 25 HPs which have AMD dualcore 64bit Athlons running at 2 GHz per core - a welcome surprise to be sure!  So, this step is really up to the tech dept....
Right now, the room is organized into 6 islands.  Each island is a table with enough room for 4 students.  Each student has a PC and some deskspace next to the PC to take notes, tests, etc.  This setup is ideal for me as some days I will teach as in a regular classroom, so my students need the deskspace to do hand-written work.  Then, my students can switch to "lab mode" in the next class meeting to complete programming assignments!  Sometimes, we do a bit of both in the same period too....

I've had IBM PCs, IBM PC/XTs and IBM PS2 Model 30s to 55s.  I've also had Gateways and Dells with Pentium Is, IIs, IIIs and IVs.  Now I have HPs with AMD 64bit dualcore Athlons running at 2GHz per core with 750MB RAM and 80GB hard drives per PC.
Wow, I remember when we had our first IBM PC upgrade - 640KB of RAM!  I think it was Steve Jobs who said at the time about this amount of RAM, "who could ever need so much!"  Mind you, these PCs had intel 8088 processors running at an amazing 4.7MHz, monochrome text screens (no graphics) and dual 5.25" floppy drives (no hard drives).  One floppy was used to boot the PC and run a certain app - the other drive was used to store files (each disk could only hold 360KB)!  Our second upgrade was to CGA 4-color 320x240 pixel graphics....
I've also had every kind of network there is: daisy chain, token ring with BNC cables, star LANs and all manner of ethernet (10Mbps, 100Mbps, etc) with all manner of cabling (serial, parallel, CAT3, CAT4, CAT5, etc).  We now have switched gigabit ethernet with CAT6e.
Whatever you do, make sure to space your PCs well apart in a large room for good ventilation and make sure to have a big air conditioner as these nodes will get very hot!  Also, make sure the room is wired correctly to handle all the electrical power necessary to run all of the above!
Hope that gets you started on your way to planning your cluster!
Good Luck,

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