What is Rocks? Rocks is the most foundational piece of software that is run on the Freed-Hardeman supercomputer. It is the operating system that controls and manages all of the nodes in the supercomputer, which together form what is called a cluster. The cluster consists of compute nodes and a Frontend node networked together, as shown in the physical layout of a Rocks cluster taken from the Rocks User Guide:
The Frontend node manages the cluster, while the compute nodes have all the brute computing power and do the work for the cluster.
The Rocks OS itself is based on CentOS Linux distribution with a modified Anaconda installer so that it can be easily installed en masse. The main method of accessing the Rocks OS is through a familiar Linux command line. The Frontend node handles synchronization and communication with the compute nodes transparently, so the OS, for the most part, appears to behave like a normal distribution of Linux. The OS is easily customizable through software packages called Rolls, which extend the functionality of the OS in a variety of ways. According to the Wikipedia article on Rocks, the OS is capable of managing very large clusters, with the largest academic cluster containing 8,632 logical CPUs at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany. One of the best attributes of the OS is that it is free and open source, and funded by a National Science Foundation Grant. It is actively maintained and the latest version is 5.4.3.
The Rocks operating system is powerful enough to run on huge computing networks, remains easy enough to install and use to make it widely practical, and is very extensible due to its use of Roll software packages. This makes it an ideal OS for the Freed-Hardeman supercomputer cluster.