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Real Cluster Courses

To fill in the gaps and get a chance to ask questions, there are real cluster courses and places to go to learn about clusters. The most exciting area is the The National Center of Excellence for HPC Technology (NCEHPCT -- -- link seems to be down). The NCEHPCT is a consortium of four community colleges that develops educational programs in high performance computing technology (). These colleges include Maui Community College (Maui, HI), Contra Costa College (San Pablo, CA), Pellissippi State Technical Community College (Knoxville, TN), Wake Technical Community College (Raleigh, NC). For example, it is now possible to get get Associates degree in High Performance Computing (HPC) from Wake Technical Community in Raleigh, NC.

If you are interested in tutorials you may want to investigate the Linux Cluster Institute which includes educational sessions as well as technical papers. There is also the annual IEEE Cluster meeting. This meeting tends to be a bit more research oriented, but does have some tutorials. Of course there is always annual Supercomputing show). There are some other short courses as well. Recently the Advanced Research Computinggroup at Georgetown presented "An Introduction to Beowulf Design, Planning, Building and Administering". In addition, The ARC recently held courses in the following subject areas "Advanced Sun Grid Engine" and "Intermediate Beowulf Administration and Optimization ." Some Googling may find other islands of cluster education in your area.

The final step is figuring out the various levels of HPC cluster certification so that when the boss says "Go get me one of the cluster things and some people to run it." You can find real people with cluster skill sets.

Cluster Books

Since I am highlighting some of the resources to learn about clusters I though I would give a brief survey of the currently available books. These books (with short summaries and links) are listed here on Cluster Monkeyas well.

There are now eleven cluster books of which I am aware. A group of four books are based on the efforts of Thomas Sterling. The first book, "How to Build a Beowulf", Sterling, Salmon, Becker, Savarese, (1999, MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-69218-X), is now a bit outdated. It does have some relevant parts, but most of the software it discusses is now considered old. The follow-on book by Sterling, "Beowulf Cluster Computing with Linux", (2002, MIT Press, ISBN 0-262-69274-0), is a collection of topics edited by Thomas Sterling. The book contains a large amount of useful information from prominent community members It should be noted that he has also edited a book entitled "Beowulf Cluster computing with Windows" (ISBN 0-262-69275-92) which shares some of the content with the Linux book. There is now an updated edition of the Linux version, edited by William Gropp, Ewing Lusk (in addition to Sterling). This version provides a very good, but high level view of Linux HPC clustering. It includes ROCKS and OSCAR coverage plus other important issues (ISBN 0-262-69292-93, 504 pages).

Robert Brown has a freely available book entitled Engineering a Beowulf-Style Compute Clusterin which the design and construction of Beowulf style clusters is presented.

A good cluster background book is "In Search of Clusters" by Gregory Pfister (1997 ISBN 0138997098, 608 pages). The book was written in the pre-Beowulf era but has some very good (and detailed) technical analysis in it.

Several new books have appeared in the last year. A book called "Building Clustered Linux Systems" by Robert W. Lucke provides a very good overview of cluster computing methods and hardware. The book provides a rather wide coverage of options, but does not dive too deep into any one approach. It is somewhat Hewlett Packard focused as author works for HP. (ISBN: 0-13-144853-66, 648 Pages). Another book is called "The Linux Enterprise Cluster" by Karl Kopper. This book focuses on the enterprise cluster (not HPC) and covers failover, heartbeat, load balancing, reliable printing/web server, and how to build a job scheduling system. Good coverage and examples. ( ISBN: 0-13-144853-65, 464 pages) Yet another recent book is called "High Performance Linux Clusters with OSCAR, Rocks, OpenMosix, and MPI" by Joseph D. Sloan. It is O'Reilly's second attempt at a Linux cluster book. Many feel this second attempt has missed the mark again. (ISBN: 0-596-00570-92, 367 pages)

There are two books which I consider rather dated. The first is called "Linux Cluster Architecture", Alex Vrenios, (2002, Sams, ISBN 0-672-32368-0). This book describes how to build a small cluster based on Linux, however, it misses a large part of the software that is used on HPC clusters today. The second is called "Linux Clustering" by Charles Bookman, (ISBN New Riders 1-57870-274-7). This book covers a wide range of Linux cluster systems and only dedicates several pages to the HPC area.

Getting There

Learning about clusters is still not easy, but it not as hard as it used to be. With any luck, my daughter will be needing a cluster for college. Then I can pull out some old hardware and show her how it was done back in the day. Of course she will open her sixty four core laptop, connect to a computational grid and design a new protein all with a few key strokes and convince me she doesn't need another one of dad's good ideas.

This article was originally published in Linux Magazine. It has been updated and formatted for the web. If you want to read more about HPC clusters and Linux you may wish visit Linux Magazine.

Douglas Eadline is proud of the fact that he has more cores running in his basement than anyone else in the neighborhood.

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