The talk/demo on the NPACI Rocks toolkit for building supercomputer clusters was great. I didn’t grok it all, but I like the use of XML to config redhat installs, and the autodetection of new machines on the cluster was quite clever. As a web developer, I appreciated the use of Apache and MySQL to keep track of the cluster, and to have the machines report their status and structures. The variability of commodity hardware makes simple hard disk mirroring – which I believe is the way things like Beowulf work – chancy. The differences between hardware can make installations unstable or break. Their philosophy is to let Red Hat be Red Hat and install itself on variable hardware with proper drivers. They use the de-facto standard of RPM files to do updates to all the nodes on the cluster. The problem Rocks solves is the problem of administering lots of linux boxes. By using smart administration the whole system, and all the nodes, can be updated intelligently.
Read the NPACI Rocks Cluster Distribution: Users Guide Introduction for more information.