[Beowulf] motherboards for diskless nodes

Jamie Rollins jrollins at ligo.mit.edu
Thu Feb 24 18:20:21 EST 2005


Hello.  I am new to this list, and to beowulfery in general.  I am working
at a physics lab and we have decided to put together a relatively small
beowulf cluster for doing data analysis.  I was wondering if people on
this list could answer a couple of my newbie questions.

The basic idea of the system is that it would be a collection of 16 to 32
off-the-shelf motherboards, all booting off the network and operating
completely disklessly.  We're looking at amd64 architecture running
Debian, although we're flexible (at least with the architecture ;).  Most
of my questions have to do with diskless operation.

How netboot-capable are modern motherboards with on-board nics?  I
have experience with a couple that support PXE.  However, I have
been having a hard time finding information on-line stating expicitly that
a given motherboard and/or bios supports netbooting.  The only thing I've
been able to find so far is the Tyan K8SR that uses the AMI BIOS 8.0.  I
get the impression that most MB's that have gigabit probably support PXE
booting, but I was curious what other's impressions are.

Something else that we're looking for that I believe is far more esoteric
and has been equally hard to find information about is BIOS serial console
redirect, ie. being able to control the bios from the serial port.  I've
been getting more and more into accessing machines through the serial
port.  The only thing holding me back from throwing out the video and
keyboard entirely is being able to access and control the BIOS through the
serial port as well.  This would also elliminate the need for on-board
video, which can only be good.  This question is obviously related to the
one in the previous paragraph about netboot, since they are both about
features of the MB and the BIOS.  The Tyan K8SR and the like with the AMI
BIOS 8.0 also claim to support this feature.

If anyone has any suggestions for specific MBs that would fit these three
requirements (netboot, serial BIOS redirect, Debian), or at least some
ideas about where to look, that would be a huge help.

A related question is whether anyone has any experience with LinuxBios and
if so, on what hardware.  This might be too big of an issue to bring up,
but I would love to hear people experiences using LinuxBios to boot
diskless cluster nodes over the network.

Thanks so much for the help, and I really look forward to becoming part of
this community.

Jamie Rollins.



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