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Building Sun-Based Beowulf Cluster

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For users who are doing numerical calculations, building compute clusters is fairly common. This document describes what a compute cluster is, what a Beowulf cluster is, and what you should keep in mind when building a compute cluster. It also describes how to build an optimized compute cluster based on Sun hardware and software.
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What is a Compute Cluster?

Traditionally a cluster is a solution of multiple computers that provide one or more highly available services. For example, this solution might be a database, a product data management (PDM) server, or some other vitally important business service.

A high-performance compute (HPC) cluster is completely different. It is a group of computing resources seen as a single resource by the end user. A compute cluster is used to run traditional HPC applications across the resource, parallelized applications using message passing technology, or when a large number of data sets is considered, throughput applications. It is also used to run any combination of these applications.

For example, a chip developer wants to verify part of a chip design. This application must make many simulations in which there is different input data, simulate a number of clock cycles, and then verify that the output data is correct. Instead of running these computations on a workstation, the chip developer can submit many simulations to a large compute cluster and receive all results in one hour instead of several days.

Or, assume that you are working on a large code development project and must recompile 1,000 source files for a complete rebuild. Instead of doing it all on your workstation, you can submit all of the jobs to a large compute cluster, and have the build ready in minutes instead of hours.

Another popular class of applications to run on a compute cluster is computational fluid dynamics (CFD) simulations, in which the problem can be divided easily into multiple parts that can be run in parallel on different nodes, thus decreasing the total simulation time dramatically.

A Beowulf cluster is a popular variant of a compute cluster that is based on PC hardware and free open source software. Subsequent sections of this article discuss Beowulf clusters in detail.

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