Monday, 17 November 2008

Super Computing Project Ends

Not blogged in a while, will spare the details/excuses but back in September I had the opportunity to get back into Super Computing for a one-off project. It's this that has kept me so busy throughout October and into November where I was really very well submerged into work for an extended period. Normally I like to keep balanced in my work-life balance. However, this project demanded a lot of time and attention and fortunately my wife, Beth, was away for a couple of weeks on business too so I really had the opportunity to get stuck in.

As I suspected (from much experience in the area) in my previous post there really was a lot of information missing at the beginning of the project. This is to be expected, the customer cannot be expected to know 100% what they want, they may not even know what is available, possible or on offer. To compound this, even the best sales team can't look into minute details when proposing a solution or making bid. So we had a productive kick-off meeting, made a lot of good decisions and recorded these to concrete the design details.

What happened next you can never be prepared for, but we've probably all experienced it. Yes, the iron fist of the bean counters barged their ugly way into the project. The previously neatly agreed deadlines and design proposals were lobbed into the air with such careless abandon it was almost humorous. The promise at the start of the project from my ex-manager that "this one would be different", and we "wouldn't have to work silly hours or cut corners" was about to be viciously broken into pieces. (Wow, I can sound like such a drama queen). Project deadlines were brought forward by give-or-take 50% simply to meet a financial deadline (of one of the parties involved not IBM I should add) way out of my control. When you're met with this kind of single-minded decision making as the technical leader of a project it's very frustrating but you know there is nothing more to be done except save time where you can and work your butt off. Anybody who knows me and my work will know I hate to deliver anything less than the very best solution I think is right. So I openly request to Mr Financial Man, whoever and wherever you are to listen to people, who like yourselves, are considered the expert in their area.

This was a Linux cluster, which for the uninitiated consists of a number of computers set up to be joined to work together on a single large problem that would take any one of them an unrealistic amount of time to compute. Using the example raised by OzBeefer on my last post, climate modelling algorithms are quite large and complex taking a single computer a long time to run, so loads of them need to work together in order to predict the weather in the future before it becomes the past! Fortunately, the design of this cluster wasn't rocket science and it was quite small. Things progressed very smoothly without any potential problems that might otherwise have occurred and with some very long working hours (read 12+ hours/day) the cluster was eventually delivered to the new schedule at the customer location.

Well I could ramble on about Linux, clustering, algorithms, networks, storage, optimisations and the projects I've worked on for hours yet, which gives me an idea... for those people reading this in the Hursley community answers on the back of a postcard, comment, e-mail or whatever if you think hearing my ramblings about this stuff might be vaguely interesting some time over lunch, tea/coffee, beers, etc?

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