Chapter 4: System Area Networks

Chapter 4: System Area Networks


Narayan Desai and Thomas Sterling

Clusters are groups of machines, meant to be harnessed to perform a task or tasks in parallel. In order for a group to coordinate itself and efficiently perform a task, the individual nodes in the cluster must be able to communicate with one another. As these messages are used for synchronization in many cases, the pace of the continued progress of the computation is dependent on the performance of the communication network.

Networks are among the most important components of clusters. A network is a group of peers that share an interconnection fabric. These peers are able to use this fabric to communicate with one another. The peers are usually hosts with network interfaces, and the fabric consists of devices that help to deliver network traffic to the intended receiver.

System area networks vary with respect to bandwidth, latency, scalability, and cost. Network performance determines cluster performance for many applications. Therefore, the initial choice of a network will affect the usability of a cluster for its entire operational lifespan.

Another type of network, a storage area network, might also be connected to nodes in a cluster. These networks carry I/O traffic to remote storage resources. Unfortunately, these networks carry the same acronym as system area networks, leading to some confusion. Storage area networks are discussed in Chapter 19; we concern ourselves only with system area networks, although these networks share many characteristics.

Part III: Managing Clusters