Yet another puff piece …

On windows clusters. They quote Don Becker, cluster illuminati, who made some quite pointed and correct observations. They quoted some marketing types from other organizations who don’t appear to be technical, and don’t grasp what “hard to install” actually means.

Aside from that, one of the least painful aspects of a cluster is “how hard it is to install”. The most painful is the cost of running it, specifically managing users, and applications. As the size of the system scales, so do per unit costs. In the case of windows, the $469/unit cost means that a moderate 16 node system + head node + file server adds another $8500 to the purchase cost. Not to mention the yearly additional costs of the OS support, the necessary per node anti-virus, the necessary per node anti-spam … That would add in another about $1500 or so. So call it an addition $10,000 per 16 node cluster.

For $250k, you can get a pretty good 32 node system, or if you can deal with lower end hardware (dual core, less memory per node, no IB), you might be able to get in 64 nodes.

With 64 nodes being about $250k, the Microsoft platform cost is about an additional $40k. Which means you are really spending $290k. Or if your budget is fixed or shrinking, you are going to spend $250k, and get say, $40k less nodes. Thats about 10 fewer nodes, to have the privilege of running windows and all its additional required software. Thats 40 fewer cores. For the same money.

How is this a win?

Oh yes, somehow, you save money. By spending more.

Our customers are pretty adamant about getting more for less as time goes on. We agree, they should get more processing power for less cost per processing power. Unit costs of nodes have remained in the $5k region (+/- $2k). Adding $469 adds 10% additional cost per node. Add in the antivirus and antispam, and I claim it looks closer to $650/node. But I could be wrong on this.

How is adding more cost per node, saving money as you scale up the number of nodes?

If W2k3 CCS were free (e.g. zero acquisition cost), it would be a reasonable direct competitor with Linux. Which is zero acquisition cost. On the support cost side, setting up and managing Linux clusters is fairly easy. In many cases, it can be done with no hassle in about an hour from a bare-metal system, by a relative novice admin, on systems of up to several hundred nodes. I am sure that CCS may be doable in a day or less with some expert help, on a small 16-way system.

Moreover, the tasks involved in managing jobs is IMO much much harder on CCS. Take for example, the process to list jobs on one particular node. Lets compare that with a linux cluster, shall we?

[landman@xxxxxxxx:~] 7 >qstat -f -t -q all.q@dualcore
queuename qtype used/tot. load_avg arch states
all.q@dualcore BIP 3/4 0.07 lx26-amd64
101 0.55500 sleep landman r 07/18/2007 21:34:17 MASTER
103 0.55500 sleep landman r 07/18/2007 21:34:30 MASTER
104 0.55500 sleep landman r 07/18/2007 21:34:32 MASTER

Let me ask, which of these two is easier to deal with? Which one would be more accessible to an end user?

Yeah, one example, but there are multitudes more behind it. I suspect the marketeers commenting on the “ease of installation” and the “no differences” really haven’t done much in terms of managing/building/running their own clusters.

As Don points out, Microsoft has nearly infinite resources to pursue something, no matter how bad a business fit it is for them. Part of those resources appear to be marketing money, “helping” resellers push their product. Just remember that next time one comes a-calling.

Meanwhile we are left with the indelible impression of a small market segment (CCS) that is not growing as fast as the cluster market as a whole (which means it may be shrinking in relative terms). This doesn’t give us a “warm and fuzzy” feeling on porting/supporting W2k3 CCS for products. Sort of like Solaris, which is, as data strongly suggests, is on the decline.

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