Why MDKC & CLIC are not comparable to RH Advanced [Was Re: Redhat Fedora]

Robert G. Brown rgb at phy.duke.edu
Thu Sep 25 09:43:04 EDT 2003

On Thu, 25 Sep 2003 erwan.velu at free.fr wrote:

> All the fedora thread is really intresting... Why people should pay for
> such clustering oriented distro ? Why CLIC is free whereas you must pay for
> MDKC with a per-CPU licence ?
> CLIC was a project co-financed by the french government, so it MandrakeSoft and
> its partners were being half payed for this work. It was obvious that we are
> making a GPL product available for download. CLIC is a real technological
> success and its customers like it for this.
> Today we are facing the following problem : how to continue such project ? How
> can MandrakeSoft could make some revenues on this king of product ? What do
> people using CLIC gives at MandrakeSoft in return of its work ? Some buy some
> consulting, but some do nothing...

I think this is the basic question.  In part I think that the answer is
for you to come up with a REASONABLE pricing model.  If you follow this
list (and it sounds like you do) then you know that when people are
building a cluster, whether it has four nodes or four hundred nodes,
prices that scale per node (period) are crazy.  A cluster node has
always been "a CPU" in the parallel supercomputer model, and the
relative LACK of marginal cost in per node installation/maintenance of
linux has been a major reason it has been used.  To install and manage
and operate an entire cluster, most people actually "work on" one or two
server/head nodes; the rest of the cluster installs a really, really
boring operating system that is little more (functionally) than a task
loader.  In the Scyld/bproc extreme this is literal; in clusters based
on higher order distros more of a metaphor, but the point is that most
of the cluster nodes don't require most of the gorp that is in a
standard distro anyway.  For many users they need nothing but the
kernel, a shell, MPI or PVM daemons or clients, and some libraries.  A
relatively fancy node might add some scheduling or monitoring daemons.

Who is going to pay $100 PER NODE for that?  Nobody sane.  Maybe some
businesses who want to build a cluster but don't want to hire somebody
that knows what they are doing to do so (which is a bit oxymoronic,
right?  Likely a fairly limited, although undoubtedly high margin,

So prices have to reflect the scaling of the actual work, acknowledging
that the very scalability of linux means that cluster managers may WELL
be relatively underutilized once a cluster is installed and operating
smoothly, so that they DO have opportunity cost time to do it themselves
"for free" as far as marginal cost to the enterprise is concerned.  If
it takes me a whole day to graze the web and collect all the tool
sources, generally ready to build, directly from their primary website,
why would I (or my employer) pay thousands of dollars for them ever?
Instead of "wasting" time on this list I'd divert some of this energy
into getting and building the sources.  Then (the web being what it now
is and not wanting to waste the effort) I'd put the packages in a
toplevel public repository.  Suddenly anybody out there can mirror my

This is what you are facing.  I'm certain that CLIC is very nice, and I
plan to try it out pretty much immediately as RH (which I have used for
years) is in a middling state of turmoil and creating THEIR OWN FUD (an
amazing business strategy, particularly at this time when SCO and MS and
even Sun are doing their best in the FUD department without help:-).

What is a reasonable price per cluster then?  Something in the <$100
range.  And for that money, don't sell them CLIC -- as you say, CLIC is
free!  Sell them something with clear added value that costs you very
little to provide.  Sell whole universities this sort of toplevel access
to a patch stream for $1000, whole governments for $100,000.  If you can
sell 100 universities or 1000 clusters or one government, you can just
about pay for the one human likely to be required to run it, and
thereafter you're making money.

My own personal suggestion would be a subscription of sorts to a
private (authenticated), high bandwidth update server from which the
user could rsync a local mirror on their cluster server.  Drop your
maintenance stuff in there and have it automatically propagate. Sure,
sell consulting and service on the side for market price -- some people
will need it and buy it.  Keep it in the range where people can see that
they are getting their money's worth and you make a fair profit.

Most cluster managers, I think, value the distributions and would (as
Bob said) view it as a Bad Thing if distribution vendors went away.  We
WANT you guys to make money.  I personally pay Red Hat fifty bucks every
few years just to contribute fair value back to them for what I receive
(this is for my personal home systems).  On the other hand, NOBODY WILL
it.  It ain't happening.  In a few years not even Microsoft will make
Microsoftish money -- their empire is being forcibly ripped apart by
market forces and entire governments, deliberately.

The distribution vendors that survive in the long run will be the ones
content with EARLY Microsoft income streams -- $30 per PC per year,
maybe.  Or $10.  For that, they have to provide real value, but the
market is there for it.  Look at (to point to an interesting metaphor)
Harry Potter.  The book sells for order $10, yet it has made its author
a billionaire and its publisher likely 10 times that.  No, this won't
create a huge empire of world dominating high margin arm twisted sales,
but its a living, and a comfortable one at that.  Even wealth.  It just
is EARNED wealth.

I'd put a paypal link right up on your CLIC download site, and suggest
that everyone who downloads it contribute/pay $50 "per cluster" and see
how many people do so.  Maybe nobody, but you might be surprised.  Right
now I pay transgaming.com regular small money just to enable GAMES in my
household.  I'll bet they are making money, and frankly it is a damn
sight harder to get Window software to run under linux than it is to
assemble a cluster package that meets a whole lot of needs.  One I can
do myself in my spare time, the other I wouldn't touch with a ten foot
pole.  If they charge small money, so can (and so should) you.

Look at their business model.  This is the linux model of the future, I
believe.  GPL (and available via sourceforge) but who wants to go
through a sourceforge build when you can get a ready to run build and
updates for a few dollars?


> CLIC is finishing at Decembrer 2003, so should we stop CLIC ? How the guys are
> working hard on such product could be payed ? We decided to launch a new
> product called MandrakeClustering based on the CLIC success.
> We have rewritten all the backend in perl, added a lot of features. We want
> this technology to survive. Now MDKC is a real product, not a research project
> as CLIC. MandrakeSoft now sells this product whereas we were just selling
> consulting on CLIC. This model now change the rules. Products like maui can't
> be resell without permissions. There is a per-cpu fee for such product, so we
> are now applying a per-cpu pricing on our product.
> The price of MDKC is really reasonable !
> For 8CPUS under x86 or AMD64 it costs 2000€,
> until 16 -> 3600€ etc..
> Please make the ratio between the hardware price and the software price.
> What is the future of CLIC ? Is will depend of the results of
> MandrakeClustering. If it works fine, we will continue CLIC because the
> clustering team could be payed for such work. This is what we are doing
> today. The technology of MDKC is currently in integration in CLIC. So CLIC will
> contain a part of MDKC a few after the release.
> The last point is you can't compare RedHat Enterprise with MandrakeClustering !
> MandrakeClustering is a real oriented clustering distro not just a
> MandrakeLinux + some few packages.
> MDKC is integrating the Linux Distro + configuration tools + deployment tools +
> clustering tools + clustering mpi stacks.
> Everything is auto configured, you don't need to be a Linux expert to install a
> cluster.
> My best example ? How to integrate new nodes ? CLICK on a node, CLICK on
> duplicate, tell the number of nodes you want to duplicate, the device you want
> to duplicate. Then just power on your nodes ! Nothing more to do !
> You just need a few hours to setup a full cluster ! DNS, DHCP, PXE, NIS,
> AUTOFS, LAM/MPI, MPICH, PVM, TFTP, etc.. Everything is built automaticaly !
> Does RH do it ?
> You can manage all the rpms on your cluster using "urpmi" (could be compared to
> apt) but using parallel tools ! How to install a tool on a cluster ?
> urpmi --parallel cluster <my_rpm>
> Dependencies are automaticaly installed like apt.
> Does RH do it ?
> You can install security/product updates from the server using a simple command:
> urpmi --parallel cluster --auto-select --auto
> Updates are downloaded from Internet then parallely send to the nodes then each
> nodes update itslef following its own needs ! Who can do that today ?
> Does RH allow you to duplicate 200 nodes in 3 minutes ~500 MBits  ?
> No, you need to integrate yourself other tools you must installed and configure.
> MDKC & CLIC are some real clustering oriented distro, everything has been
> thought for the easyness of use..
> I don't know if this king of approach could match all the clustering needs, but
> I must say that people who did really test this kind of distribution likes it.
> I'm not saying that other products are poor, we just have another approach that
> our Linux editor postion allow us to give.
> I hope this mail could help everyone to understand the work of the CLIC & MDKC
> team.
> Linuxely yours, 

Robert G. Brown	                       http://www.phy.duke.edu/~rgb/
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at phy.duke.edu

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