The Coming Battle in Lowly Parallel Computing

In Search of Clusters is not a Windows NT book, but it foreshadows the direction of NT clusters. While researching this article, I spoke with each member of Microsoft's Wolfpack core team. When I mentioned Gregory Pfister, they all acknowledged that they had read the book and discussed its conclusions with each other.

In Search of Clusters walks you through the challenges of creating truly scaleable clusters or parallel systems. Vendors, including Wolfpack members, have been working on these challenges for years, often arriving at different proprietary solutions.

By reading this book, you'll learn the differences in parallel, cluster, and distributed systems. You'll learn how SMP systems work and why cache management is essential in an SMP system. Pfister also points out the distinctions between shared-nothing clusters and shared disk, or shared memory, systems. This information is important, especially when you start hearing about NUMA-Q, a shared memory system that Sequent and Data General are proposing. NUMA-Q is fundamentally different from the shared-nothing approach that Microsoft is leaning toward and that Tandem has been using for years.

When you read this book, the temptation is to race toward the end for Pfister's conclusions about clusters. My article gives many of the conclusions, so try to restrain yourself and read the book from cover to cover. If you do, you'll understand technology discussions that will be occurring over the next few years as Wolfpack attempts to implement scaling clusters. Wolfpack's success or failure to deliver will answer the question, "Can NT scale?"

If you have any interest in using NT to tackle big problems, consider reading this book. Although it gets technical at times, if you can read and understand a typical issue of Windows NT Magazine, you can read this book. I have to admit that I needed one of my favorite super-caffeinated drinks, a cappuccino granita, to get through the long chapter on SMP, but the effort was worth the jitters.

I came away wanting to know what Pfister thought about Wolfpack and how it's progressing. So I asked him. In an exclusive interview he gives his answer.

In Search of Clusters: The Coming Battle in Lowly Parallel Computing
Author: Gregory Pfister
Publisher: Prentice Hall PTR, Order Processing Center * 515-284-6751 or 800-947-7700 (For orders greater than 10 copies, call Prentice Hall Corporate Sales, 201-236-7148 or 800-382-3419.)
Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1995
ISBN: 0-13-437625-0
Price: $42, 444 pages