Highlights of our Work
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For hard-working scientists, the task of maintaining a single desktop computer is an unwelcome distraction. But what if your work requires the power of ten or a hundred machines? Our recent series of workshops (Sep 2005, Nov 2005, Mar 2006, and Apr 2006) has given nearly one hundred participants hands-on experience installing and using low-cost Linux clusters. Students were taught to eliminate many sources of complexity, such as hard drives, and to automate what remained with cluster management software and a queueing system. Lectures on cluster design stressed the importance of knowing which applications would be run and choosing cost-effective hardware to meet those specific needs, as well as less-obvious aspects of cluster acquisition such as electrical power, cooling, and the purchasing process. After assembling and installing small four-node clusters, students ran both the molecular dynamics program NAMD and a more typical parallel application that they compiled from scratch. Most participants were motivated by concrete plans to build clusters for their own groups in the near future and felt better-equipped to do so following their experience.