[Beowulf] scheduler recommendations for a HPC cluster

Bogdan Costescu bcostescu at gmail.com
Thu Oct 8 06:08:04 EDT 2009

On Wed, Oct 7, 2009 at 10:22 PM, Rahul Nabar <rpnabar at gmail.com> wrote:
> How does one compare different schedulers, anyways? Is it mostly "word
> of mouth" and reputation. Feature sets are good to look at but it's
> not really a quantitative metric.

I would say that, in the spirit of other benchmarks and comparisons
discussed on this list, the best way is to try as many different ones
as possible and make your own decision based on objective (how much it
fits the needs) and subjective (how much you like its interfaces, how
comfortable you feel maintaining it) criteria.

But of course this is just wishful thinking... most resource managers
and schedulers are way too complicated for a simple "let's just
install it and run it" scenario, so it takes an excessive amount of
time to set them up and to read documentation, pull hair over
documented but not working features, contact support or write to
mailing lists for help, getting something working only to find out
that the users or, even worse, some administrative powers want changes
and... start the cycle all over again. One can argue that taking care
of a resource manager and scheduler can be a full-time job on a
medium/large cluster, somehow similar to a DBA.

IMHO, features sets are not a good way of comparing schedulers - much
more important is how they map to what you want to achieve and how
easy is to interact with them. I can take a lot of time to configure
and test (very important part if the admin actually cares about the
users ;-)) a medium to complex setup (f.e. several queues, serving
several types of nodes with different limits of using the hardware or
what users are allowed to do) and often there are several ways of
achieving the same result which means that it's quite easy for a
beginner to shoot him/her-self in the foot by trying to set too many
things at once. The interaction with the scheduler is crucial because
usually some results have to be extracted from it (efficiency of usage
of the hardware, what ratio of time each user/group has consumed, how
well fairshare works, etc.) and sometimes new settings have to be put
into effect to change those results; let alone adding new nodes or
making changes to accommodate a particular user or software...

Another issue is that, although many features are advertised, not all
work as you think. At configuration stage and especially while testing
(or latest in production...), you can find about all kinds of
limitations or implementation details which raise barriers between the
resource manager or scheduler and your goals - especially interactions
with various other components like MPI libraries (which need to know
how to start a process on a remote node, which processors or cores to
use, etc.), ISV-provided start-up scripts, existing infrastructure
(Kerberos support, username length, number of secondary groups a user
can belong to, etc.), but sometimes also inside the resource manager
or scheduler itself (how good is it a cleaning up after a failed job,
what's the maximum number of queues, etc.).

I agree with Mark Hahn about selling a solution that solves a
particular site's resource management and scheduling problem and not a
generic solution that has to be customized by people who might have a
hard time understanding the concepts and maybe limitations of the
offered solution. Of course, some academic sites might not want
this... to reduce costs, to not depend on a particular vendor, to
allow for new ideas to be implemented, while many companies which
require resource management and scheduling probably have their staff
trained for this particular task. But I see a real need in small
academic groups or small companies which don't have enough manpower to
dedicate to this...

Sorry for the rather negative message, but one would expect that after
more than 20 years such an important piece of middleware would reach
maturity and be easy to deploy and configure.

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