Geneseo, Buffalo, distcc, and Gentoo

2005-04-19

I haven't posted here in quite a while so as always, some things have changed. I no longer have a girlfriend. She broke up with me. I don't really want to talk about that.

Yesterday I had an opportunity to see the Distributed Computing lab at SUNY Geneseo and Buffalo University's Center for Computing Research. Pictures available.

The DSLab at Geneseo was really cool. Two Xserve clusters, a video wall and an SGI Onyx. I walked into the room and the admin (Kirk), said "It's a little chilly in here. Let's turn on a cluster." The windows behind the video wall were open to keep the computers cool but they weren't generating enough heat. So he fired up the cluster of G4s and started running Einstein@Home. For those that don't know, Einstein@Home is a project similar to SETI@Home but they try to grok gravitational waves instead. Geneseo's DSLab is on the top 10 list for most productive teams.

After seeing the DSLab and touring the Data Center at Geneseo, we drove to Buffalo University with a group of Geneseo students in order to take a tour of the Center for Computing Research (CCR). Buffalo's CCR is home to the 22nd most powerful computer on the planet. It's somewhat humbling to be in the presence of such a beast. I enjoyed the tour quite a bit although I was a little put off by the elitist mentality of some of the people there.

Buffalo University has an obsession with Grid Computing. For those that don't know, Grid Computing is like taking every cluster (or computer for that matter) on the planet and building a giant cluster out of it. As you may already be aware, distributed computing alone is in it's infancy, so it seems like the CCR people are trying to walk before they can crawl. Their methodology for building the Grid is a little rushed from what I could gather. They are trying to build it with as much off the shelf software as possible, leaving no room for true innovation. They simply have the bigger computers to run the software on.

That being said, Matt Haas at CCC is going to be teaching a Distributed Systems class over the summer that I am already involved in as much as possible. It'll be awesome to build a cluster and be able to run my own code on it. I've already started writing software.

If you took a look at the pictures that I linked earlier, you'll also notice a few from CCC's Tech Showcase last week. It was a nice display of what you can do with a computer to get more students (and faculty) interested in the CS courses at CCC. One of the highlights was a four-node Knoppix cluster. I spent the day playing with that. We mostly showed off the things you can do with a clustered display system by building a video wall across the table. Rather amusing.

As far as Runemonkey news, I've decided that I will be standardizing all of my Linux servers on Gentoo. I'm doing this mostly for my sanity but also because having a homogenus software environment makes clustering that much easier. As I am typing this, I have three systems running a distcc build of Mozilla Firefox for my laptop. If you are familiar with my network configuration, the systems running the cluster are Apollo, Iris, and Athena. Iris is actually running Windows XP with Gentoo on VMWare. This is only temporary until I get another hard drive installed to make dual booting a bit more feasible.

Over the next few days, I will be rebuilding Artemis with Gentoo and saying goodbye to my beloved Petra Linux based on Linux from Scratch. I will definitely miss knowing the system like the back of my hand, but I decided that it makes more sense to spend my time learning a more widespread distribution. The other major factor in this decision was the fact that the Portage system will keep everything updated and secure without having to run security audits myself every few weeks.

So, as a result of the rebuild, all Runemonkey hosted sites will be seeing slow or disrupted service in the coming days. You get what you pay for.

On a final note, I will make an attempt to post at least once a month, if not more. I know it's been a while since the last update and this is only because I thought nobody was reading this. But from the comments I've gotten from various people, there are a few of you still hanging around and it seems like my readership is growing! w00t!

Next post - Winter Wonderland Games and College Decisions