The openMosix Project has officially closed as of March 1st 2008. This brings nostalgia of the toy OpenMosix cluster I once had running for a few years, assembled using the ailing collection of dusty hardware heating my apartment and infrequently put to productive use for large batch jobs. Soon I found that a single less ancient machine could perform about as fast if not faster for less electricity, and batch jobs being what they are I could just as well let them run during my sleep. But in an age when I had more time than money (I now have neither…) and when compression jobs were measured in hours, OpenMosix was a fun and useful patch for which I foresaw a bright future.

A few years later the efficient scheduler in recent Linux releases lets me load my workstation to high values with barely any consequence for interactive tasks, so I don’t really feel like I’m starved for processing power. But I still spend too much time staring at progress bars when editing photos, so more available CPU could definitely speed up my workflow. This is why I look longingly at the servers in the corridor who spend most of their lives at fractional loads while the workstation is struggling. Manual load balancing by executing heavy tasks on remote hosts is a bit of a chore, so I go browsing for single-system image clustering news, wondering why easily pooling local system resources is not yet a standard feature of modern operating systems.

One of the major obstacles to the generalization of SSI clustering outside of dedicated systems is that software such as OpenMosix or Kerrighed require an homogeneous environment : you can’t just mix whatever hosts happen to live on your LAN. For most users, homogenizing their systems using one Linux kernel version, let alone one type of operating system is not an option.

But nowadays, virtualization systems such as Xen are common enough that they may represent a viable path to homogenization. So I envision using it to extend my workstation to the neighboring hosts. I would run the workstation as a normal “on the metal” host, but on each of the hosts I want to assist the workstation I would run a Xen guest domain running a bare bones operating system compatible with taking part in a single system image with the workstation. Adding capacity to the cluster would be as simple as copying the Xen guest domain image to an additional host and running it as nice as desired, with no impact on the host apart from the CPU load and allocated memory.

This approach looks sane to me on paper, but strangely I can’t find much about it on the web. Is there an hidden caveat ? Did I make an obviously wrong assumption ? Tell me if you have heard of other users extending their workstation with SSI using Xen guest domains on random local hosts. Meanwhile, since OpenMosix is now unsupported, I guess I’ll have to dive into Kerrighed