[Beowulf] motherboards for diskless nodes

Jim Lux James.P.Lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Thu Feb 24 19:19:30 EST 2005




At 03:20 PM 2/24/2005, Jamie Rollins wrote:
>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?

Very capable.  Easier to do netboot than almost anything else.

>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.

One way to check is to look at the BIOS manual for your mobo (they're 
typically online) and see if they mention a "boot from network" option.

As a practical matter, I think almost ALL mobos these days can do network 
boot. Now, if someone could answer whether they can netboot over a 802.11 
card, I'd be real interested. (the question is whether the bios has enough 
smarts to bring up the wireless interface)


>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.

That's probably a bit dicey.. While netboot is a "essential" feature for 
modern business environments (which drives mobo development, to a large 
degree), serial access is not. In fact, a lot of "legacy free" mobos have 
NO serial port.

However, for mobos aimed at the "server" application, remote management is 
a big deal, so serial port management might be more likely.


>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.

Google for it, and you'll find several examples of LinuxBIOS and clusters.

James Lux, P.E.
Spacecraft Radio Frequency Subsystems Group
Flight Communications Systems Section
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mail Stop 161-213
4800 Oak Grove Drive
Pasadena CA 91109
tel: (818)354-2075
fax: (818)393-6875


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