Virtual Clusters: a cost-Benefit Look Into the Future of Computing at cmu alok Chatterjee

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Virtual Clusters: A Cost-Benefit Look Into the Future of Computing at CMU

  • Alok Chatterjee

  • Anusha Krishnakumar

  • November 25th 2002

Introduction - What is a Virtual Cluster?

  • VC Locations

    • University Center VC (Apple grant)
    • GSIA (IBM ThinkPads)
  • “Laptop check-out system” very similar to library system

  • Background on “VC’s”

    • Planning process begun in 1994

GSIA Virtual Cluster

  • First VC opened in 1998 (pilot program)

    • 28 IBM ThinkPads
  • GSIA full service VC

    • 50 ThinkPads today
  • Various known problems going into VC project


  • Main costs associated with VC:

  • Further costs:

    • Laptop / Battery lifecycle
      • Replacement costs
    • Skilled labor / Training costs
    • Waiting time
      • Back-to-back classes, etc
    • Laptop availability
      • Not available 24 hours

Need for More Man-Power

      • Training (i.e., logistics for running the cluster)
      • Cluster needs to be constantly staffed
      • Certain Technical Skills (e.g., technical support)
      • Higher salaries associated with the above attributes

Network issues

  • Wireless supports far less bandwidth, resulting in more jams

  • Users closer to wireless hubs tend to use up more bandwidth, detracting from other users’ usage capabilities

GSIA VC Benefits

  • Various benefits too

    • Space conservation
    • Energy savings
    • Flexibility / Mobility

Space Conservation

      • Small checkout hub, located near classrooms / auditoriums
      • The GSIA virtual cluster takes up approximately one-tenth of the space that the Baker cluster does
      • Given the shortage of classrooms on campus, the potential benefits resulting from more virtual clusters, and, by extension, fewer desktop clusters, could be enormous

Energy Savings

    • Laptops tend to take less energy than desktops
      • Dependent upon the power consumption of the battery charger
      • These computers will NOT be left on all the time like the cluster computers

Flexibility / Mobility

    • All the benefits of a laptop, plus an Ethernet connection
    • Especially useful given space constraints
    • Can effectively control the size of the cluster


  • Various benefits and costs as mentioned earlier

    • Space, energy, replacement costs, etc
  • Success of Virtual Cluster system today

    • Laptops checked out on a regular basis, popular with students and professors
  • Our recommendation

    • Expand the virtual cluster service and eliminate some desktop clusters


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