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2. Types of Beowulf Clusters

There are several ways to design a Beowulf. I'm going to try to break down the types by network, hardware, and software configuration, since you really can pick one from each. Under each section will be a quick blurb about the best price/performace technology to use. Please note that the terms I use here are my own, so I can refer to them easily. (Also, most of them I made up cause they sound cool ;)

2.1 Classification by Network Architecture

For all cluster types, I would recommend switched 100BaseT as the price/performance sweet spot. Gigiabit switches and cards are roughly 10 times more expensive currently than 100BaseT, and for embarassingly parallel jobs, you won't need this bandwith, as your communication should be minimal. If you are implementing a MOSIX-based cluster, Gigabit networking might be something to consider, as MOSIX is more network bound than your typical GA.

2.2 Classification by System Architecture

For all cluster types, I recommend x86 hardware. As shitty as it is, it really is the best price/performance ratio, especially when you're dealing with near-linearly scalable algorithms. For example, even if a DEC Alpha 21264 was 3 times faster than an AMD K7T (which it is not), you can buy about 4 Thunderbirds for the price of one Alpha. (Trust me, I looked. Thunderbirds run as low as $900 a piece with 256 RAM, while a 21264 will run you at LEAST $3600, and thats if you find a half dozen stolen ones on eBAY).

2.3 Classification by Synchronization Software

Now this is the important part. Choosing your software essentially determines the use of the cluster. For example, you don't want to go full fleged with MOSIX if all you are doing is setting up a rendering farm or a GA.


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