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Iker Castanos, a student of Technical Engineering in Computerized Management at the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), has designed the very first live Linux distribution that, initiated either from a DVD or by installation, communicates between clusters of computers so that they can work in parallel.

Work on a nuclear fusion project to create cleaner energy took Castanos into the world of clusters. Professors Izaskun Garrido and Aitor Josu Garrido of the Advanced Control Group in the Department of Systems Engineering and Automation at UPV/EHU approached students looking for a volunteer to configure a cluster for their project. They were using ASTRA and MATLAB code to simulate a nuclear fusion reactor, and Castanos volunteered for the project.

In principle, Castanos only had to configure a cluster, but the project went well beyond that: “First I did the cluster. I installed a Linux distribution in a machine and modified and configured it manually in an ongoing manner. What happened was that, when I had finished, I realized that there were many Linux distributions on the market; specialized for ultra-lightweight computers, for editing videos...for everything. And I said to myself, ‘There are programmers and researchers who do not have the knowledge required to build a cluster and thus undertake their research work. Why not link up the distribution being built, and save time in having to configure?’”

This is how the first version of ABC GNU/Linux arose, which was in trial phase by April 2009. It involves a free software-based distribution (Ubuntu), is live as well as installable, and is capable of automatically configuring a cluster of up to 254 computers. Castanos said, “100 PCs are purchased and my DVD is inserted into one of these and booted, either from the DVD or installed in the hard disk itself. This computer and the rest of the machines are connected together by a switch (a device that acts like a router). When the rest of the machines are booted, using a BIOS (basic in/out system) specifying which device is to be booted, they are told what to do by means of the network card. All are booted from the DVD itself -- or the hard disk if installed -- registered, and connections are created between them.”

Encouraged by the Garridos, Mr Castanos submitted an article on his work to the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE), and the IEEE invited him to the ICCAT (International Conference on Computer and Automation Technology) last year in Sarajevo.

There were other, similar distributions when Castanos presented ABC GNU/Linux, such as Pelican HPC or Rocks, but none had the ABC GNU/Linux benefit of being both live and installable at the same time (for example, Pelican HPC is only live and Rocks is only installable).

There have been more than a thousand downloads of the distribution and Castanos see this a promising: “It is not a program for massive use, and so a thousand is quite a number.”

The ABC GNU/Linux distribution is available from the Advanced Control Group of the UPV/EHU.

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