This is the setup guide for the bigdata "mini" cluster. This is a bit of a play on words. The cluster is actually made up of Mac Minis (the 2011 model). The mini has one great advantage, especially when you drop an SSD into it. It is quiet. Suitable for running a bunch of them in the same room. The same can not be said for server grade hardware.
To compensate for the relatively "light" design on the Mini, we had them outfitted with 8G of RAM and purchased a 256G SSD to be installed into each one. The SSD should nicely complement for the lack on RAM since one of the main uses of RAM is to buffer the disk. We went back and forth on which Mini to get, but finally settled on:
The quad core "server" mini was an interesting alternative, but the cores were significantly slower (2.0Ghz). The clincher for us was actually the AMD GPU in the 2.7Ghz mini. We plan to try out some interesting parallel acceleration concepts on the GPUs in the cluster. Like the mini, this is GPU lite, but it should be sufficient to test out some new ideas.
This is my first time working with Ubuntu. It seems to have a good reputation and the open source aparapi project works with AMD GPUs and Ubuntu so, that clinched our choice of OS. (As a side note, it is interesting to see how Ubuntu is offering commercial paid software, such as Landscape, in their OS install. A new twist on OS business models. Found this . Guess that sums it up.)
Working with Mac hardware is always interesting. The first part of this guide will explain how we platformed the nodes with Ubuntu and dealt with the various quirks of the Mac hardware environment, including no BIOS (it uses EFI), and getting things working with the embedded AMD GPU. After that I will get into the more traditional cluster setup.
Setting up Ubuntu on the Mini
I downloaded Ubuntu 11.04 and burned it onto a CDR. I then followed the guidence in  to boot onto the CDR. Since the 2011 mini does not have a DVD player, I mounted an external (USB) DVD player. I also wound up connecting a USB keyboard and mouse as I was not able to get the mini to recognize the "c" key during the initial boot onto the DVD.
Rather than reformat the internal HHD, I dropped the SSD into an external (USB) drive bay. This is a convienent way to get a useable image onto the SSD without having tear open the mini and swap the 5400 HDD for the SSD. It also let me prepare the SSDs while I waited for Apple to ship the rest of the minis (they shipped out separately and dribbled in over a series of days).