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November 30, 2004

"High Performance Linux Clusters with OSCAR, Rocks, openMosix, and MPI": A Comprehensive, Getting-Started Guide

Sebastopol, CA--To the outside world, a "supercomputer" appears to be a single system. In fact, it's a cluster of computers that share a local area network and have the ability to work together on a single problem as a team. Many businesses used to consider supercomputing beyond the reach of their budgets, but new Linux applications have made high-performance clusters more affordable than ever. "A wealth of open source or free software has emerged to make it easy to set up, administer, and program these clusters," says Joseph D. Sloan, author of High Performance Linux Clusters with OSCAR, Rocks, openMosix, and MPI (O'Reilly, US $39.95). "Each individual package is accompanied by documentation, sometimes very rich and thorough. But knowing where to start and how to get the different pieces working proves daunting for many programmers and administrators."

Sloan's new book provides an important overview of the issues that new cluster administrators have to deal with in making their clusters meet their needs, ranging from the initial hardware and software choices through long-term considerations such as performance. The book focuses on clustering for high-performance computation, although much of its information also applies to clustering for high-availability (failover and disaster recovery). High Performance Linux Clusters discusses the key tools needed to get started, including good practices to use while exploring the tools and growing a system. Readers will learn about planning, hardware choices, bulk installation of Linux on multiple systems, and other basic considerations. Then they'll learn about software options that can save them hours--or even weeks--of deployment time.

Since a wide variety of options exist in each area of clustering software, the author discusses the pros and cons of the major free software projects and chooses those that are most likely to be helpful to new cluster administrators and programmers. As Sloan explains, "In writing this book, I have evaluated a large number of programs and selected for inclusion the software I believe is the most useful for someone new to clustering. The software described in the book is freely available, open source software. All of it is available for use with Linux; however, much of it should work nicely with other platforms as well.

"The book brings together all the information you'll need to get started," Sloan adds. "After reading it, you should have a clear idea of what is possible, what is available, and where to go to get it. While this book doesn't stand alone, it should reduce the amount of work you'll need to do. I've tried to write the sort of book I would have wanted when I got started with clusters."

A few of the projects introduced in High Performance Linux Clusters include:

  • MPI, the most popular programming library for clusters; includes simple but realistic introductory examples along with some pointers for advanced use
  • OSCAR and Rocks, two comprehensive installation and administrative systems
  • openMosix (a convenient tool for distributing jobs), Linux kernel extensions that migrate processes transparently for load balancing
  • PVFS, one of the parallel filesystems that make clustering I/O easier
  • C3, a set of commands for administering multiple systems
  • Ganglia, OpenPBS, and cloning tools (Kickstart, SIS, and G4U) are also covered. The book looks at cluster installation packages (OSCAR and Rocks) and then considers the core packages individually for greater depth or for folks wishing to do a custom installation. Guidelines for debugging, profiling, performance tuning, and managing jobs from multiple users round out this immensely useful book.

    Additional Resources:

    High Performance Linux Clusters with OSCAR, Rocks, openMosix, and MPI
    Joseph D. Sloan
    ISBN: 0-596-00570-9, 350 pages, $39.95 US, $57.95 CA
    1-800-998-9938; 1-707-827-7000

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