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Case study: Clustering the penguins

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The humble personal computer has a well-deserved reputation as a giant-killer. After all, it was the virus-like spread of PCs which spelled the beginning of the end for the mainframe dinosaurs.

Because the first low-cost servers emerged from high-end PCs being asked to look after more than one user at once, it took quite a few of the diminutive workhorses to match the capacity of the mini-computers they were slowly but surely replacing.

At first, this was heralded as a good thing...

Systems managers cried out for fewer items of hardware to manage, and operating systems which made it easier to take advantage of the available power while ignoring the failed pieces of the puzzle.

Hardware vendors responded with ‘blade’ servers – simple plug-in servers which use a shared source of power and connectivity, and can be quickly swapped out and replaced should they fail. All that was required to complete the puzzle was the right kind of operating system, and both Microsoft’s Windows and various flavours of Unix offered the solution in the form of clustering.

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