Computer cluster


Computer cluster

A computer cluster is a group of linked computers, working together closely thus in many respects forming a single computer. The components of a cluster are commonly, but not always, connected to each other through fast local area networks. Clusters are usually deployed to improve performance and availability over that of a single computer, while typically being much more cost-effective than single computers of comparable speed or availability.[1]

Contents

Categorization

High-availability (HA) clusters

High-availability clusters (also known as failover cluster) are implemented primarily for the purpose of improving the availability of services that the cluster provides. They operate by having redundant nodes, which are then used to provide service when system components fail. The most common size for an HA cluster is two nodes, which is the minimum requirement to provide redundancy. HA cluster implementations attempt to use redundancy of cluster components to eliminate single points of failure.

There are commercial implementations of High-Availability clusters for many operating systems. The Linux-HA project is one commonly used free software HA package for the Linux operating system.

Load-balancing clusters

Load-balancing is when multiple computers are linked together to share computational workload or function as a single virtual computer. Logically, from the user side, they are multiple machines, but function as a single virtual machine. Requests initiated from the user are managed by, and distributed among, all the standalone computers to form a cluster. This results in balanced computational work among different machines, improving the performance of the cluster systems.

Compute clusters

Often clusters are used primarily for computational purposes, rather than handling IO-oriented operations such as web service or databases. For instance, a cluster might support computational simulations of weather or vehicle crashes. The primary distinction within computer clusters is how tightly-coupled the individual nodes are. For instance, a single computer job may require frequent communication among nodes: this implies that the cluster shares a dedicated network, is densely located, and probably has homogenous nodes. This cluster design is usually referred to as Beowulf Cluster. The other extreme is where a computer job uses one or few nodes, and needs little or no inter-node communication. This latter category is sometimes called "Grid" computing. Tightly-coupled compute clusters are designed for work that might traditionally have been called "supercomputing". Middleware such as MPI (Message Passing Interface) or PVM (Parallel Virtual Machine) permits compute clustering programs to be portable to a wide variety of clusters.

Implementations

The TOP500 organization's semiannual list of the 500 fastest computers usually includes many clusters. TOP500 is a collaboration between the University of Mannheim, the University of Tennessee, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As of July 2011 the top supercomputer is the K computer in Kobe, Japan, with performance of 8.162 PFlops measured with the LINPACK benchmark.

Clustering can provide significant performance benefits versus price. The System X supercomputer at Virginia Tech, the 28th most powerful supercomputer on Earth as of June 2006[2], is a 12.25 TFlops computer cluster of 1100 Apple XServe G5 2.3 GHz dual-processor machines (4 GB RAM, 80 GB SATA HD) running Mac OS X and using InfiniBand interconnect. The cluster initially consisted of Power Mac G5s; the rack-mountable XServes are denser than desktop Macs, reducing the aggregate size of the cluster. The total cost of the previous Power Mac system was $5.2 million, a tenth of the cost of slower mainframe computer supercomputers. (The Power Mac G5s were sold off.)

The central concept of a Beowulf cluster is the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computers to produce a cost-effective alternative to a traditional supercomputer. One project that took this to an extreme was the Stone Soupercomputer.

However it is worth noting that Flops (floating point operations per second), aren't always the best metric for supercomputer speed. Clusters can have very high Flops, but they cannot access all data in the cluster as a whole at once. Therefore clusters are excellent for parallel computation, but much poorer than traditional supercomputers at non-parallel computation.

JavaSpaces is a specification from Sun Microsystems that enables clustering computers via a distributed shared memory.

Consumer game consoles

Due to the increasing computing power of each generation of game consoles, a novel use has emerged where they are repurposed into High-performance computing (HPC) clusters. Some examples of game console clusters are Sony PlayStation clusters and Microsoft Xbox clusters. It has been suggested on a news website that countries which are restricted from buying supercomputing technologies may be obtaining game systems to build computer clusters for military use.[3]

History

The history of cluster computing is best captured by a footnote in Greg Pfister's In Search of Clusters: “Virtually every press release from DEC mentioning clusters says ‘DEC, who invented clusters...’. IBM did not invent them either. Customers invented clusters, as soon as they could not fit all their work on one computer, or needed a backup. The date of the first is unknown, but it would be surprising if it was not in the 1960s, or even late 1950s.”[4]

The formal engineering basis of cluster computing as a means of doing parallel work of any sort was arguably invented by Gene Amdahl of IBM, who in 1967 published what has come to be regarded as the seminal paper on parallel processing: Amdahl's Law. Amdahl's Law describes mathematically the speedup one can expect from parallelizing any given otherwise serially performed task on a parallel architecture. This article defined the engineering basis for both multiprocessor computing and cluster computing, where the primary differentiator is whether or not the interprocessor communications are supported "inside" the computer (on for example a customized internal communications bus or network) or "outside" the computer on a commodity network.

Consequently the history of early computer clusters is more or less directly tied into the history of early networks, as one of the primary motivations for the development of a network was to link computing resources, creating a de facto computer cluster. Packet switching networks were conceptually invented by the RAND corporation in 1962. Using the concept of a packet switched network, the ARPANET project succeeded in creating in 1969 what was arguably the world's first commodity-network based computer cluster by linking four different computer centers (each of which was something of a "cluster" in its own right, but probably not a commodity cluster). The ARPANET project grew into the Internet—which can be thought of as "the mother of all computer clusters" (as the union of nearly all of the compute resources, including clusters, that happen to be connected). It also established the paradigm in use by all computer clusters in the world today—the use of packet-switched networks to perform interprocessor communications between processor (sets) located in otherwise disconnected frames.

The development of customer-built and research clusters proceeded hand in hand with that of both networks and the Unix operating system from the early 1970s, as both TCP/IP and the Xerox PARC project created and formalized protocols for network-based communications. The Hydra operating system was built for a cluster of DEC PDP-11 minicomputers called C.mmp at Carnegie Mellon University in 1971. However, it was not until circa 1983 that the protocols and tools for easily doing remote job distribution and file sharing were defined (largely within the context of BSD Unix, as implemented by Sun Microsystems) and hence became generally available commercially, along with a shared filesystem.

The first commercial clustering product was ARCnet, developed by Datapoint in 1977. ARCnet was not a commercial success and clustering per se did not really take off until Digital Equipment Corporation released their VAXcluster product in 1984 for the VAX/VMS operating system. The ARCnet and VAXcluster products not only supported parallel computing, but also shared file systems and peripheral devices. The idea was to provide the advantages of parallel processing, while maintaining data reliability and uniqueness. VAXcluster, now VMScluster, is still available on OpenVMS systems from HP running on Alpha and Itanium systems.

Two other noteworthy early commercial clusters were the Tandem Himalaya (a circa 1994 high-availability product) and the IBM S/390 Parallel Sysplex (also circa 1994, primarily for business use).

No history of commodity computer clusters would be complete without noting the pivotal role played by the development of Parallel Virtual Machine (PVM) software in 1989. This open source software based on TCP/IP communications enabled the instant creation of a virtual supercomputer—a high performance compute cluster—made out of any TCP/IP connected systems. Free form heterogeneous clusters built on top of this model rapidly achieved total throughput in FLOPS that greatly exceeded that available even with the most expensive "big iron" supercomputers. PVM and the advent of inexpensive networked PCs led, in 1993, to a NASA project to build supercomputers out of commodity clusters. In 1995 the Beowulf cluster—a cluster built on top of a commodity network for the specific purpose of "being a supercomputer" capable of performing tightly coupled parallel HPC computations—was invented,[5] which spurred the independent development of grid computing as a named entity, although Grid-style clustering had been around at least as long as the Unix operating system and the Arpanet, whether or not it, or the clusters that used it, were named.

Technologies

MPI is a widely-available communications library that enables parallel programs to be written in C, Fortran, Python, OCaml, and many other programming languages.

The GNU/Linux world supports various cluster software; for application clustering, there is Beowulf, distcc, and MPICH. Linux Virtual Server, Linux-HA - director-based clusters that allow incoming requests for services to be distributed across multiple cluster nodes. MOSIX, openMosix, Kerrighed, OpenSSI are full-blown clusters integrated into the kernel that provide for automatic process migration among homogeneous nodes. OpenSSI, openMosix and Kerrighed are single-system image implementations.

Microsoft Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 based on the Windows Server platform provides pieces for High Performance Computing like the Job Scheduler, MSMPI library and management tools. NCSA's recently installed Lincoln is a cluster of 450 Dell PowerEdge 1855 blade servers running Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003. This cluster debuted at #130 on the Top500 list in June 2006.

gridMathematica provides distributed computations over clusters including data analysis, computer algebra and 3D visualization. It can make use of other technologies such as Altair PBS Professional, Microsoft Windows Compute Cluster Server, Platform LSF and Sun Grid Engine.[6]

gLite is a set of middleware technologies created by the Enabling Grids for E-sciencE (EGEE) project.

Another example of consumer game products being added to high-performance computing is the Nvidia Tesla Personal Supercomputer workstation, which gets its processing power by harnessing the power of multiple graphics accelerator processor chips.

Algorithmic skeletons are a high-level parallel programming model for parallel and distributed computing which take advantage of common programming patterns to hide the complexity of parallel and distributed applications. Starting from a basic set of patterns (skeletons), more complex patterns can be built by combining the basic ones.

Global Storage Architecture (GSA)—a highly scalable cloud based NAS solution—combines proprietary IBM HPC technology (storage and server hardware and IBM's high-performance shared-disk clustered file system, GPFS) with open source components like Linux, Samba and CTDB to deliver distributed storage solutions. GSA exports the clustered file system through industry standard protocols like CIFS, NFS, FTP and HTTP. All of the GSA nodes in the grid export all files of all file systems simultaneously.[7]

See also

References

Further reading

  • Mark Baker, et al., Cluster Computing White Paper [1], 11 Jan 2001.
  • Karl Kopper: The Linux Enterprise Cluster: Build a Highly Available Cluster with Commodity Hardware and Free Software, No Starch Press, ISBN 1-59327-036-4
  • Robert W. Lucke: Building Clustered Linux Systems, Prentice Hall, 2005, ISBN 0-13-144853-6
  • Evan Marcus, Hal Stern: Blueprints for High Availability: Designing Resilient Distributed Systems, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 0-471-35601-8
  • Greg Pfister: In Search of Clusters, Prentice Hall, ISBN 0-13-899709-8
  • Rajkumar Buyya (editor): High Performance Cluster Computing: Architectures and Systems, Volume 1, ISBN 0-13-013784-7, Prentice Hall, NJ, USA, 1999.
  • Rajkumar Buyya (editor): High Performance Cluster Computing: Programming and Applications, Volume 2, ISBN 0-13-013785-5, Prentice Hall, NJ, USA, 1999.

External links


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