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Creating BOINC clusters


Assume you have multiple computers idle and want to run BOINC projects on them. Do you install each OS instance separately on each machine’s hard drive, and then monitor the computers individually? What about updates or hardware replacements? It quickly gets very time-consuming to manage multiple computers.

There is another way however: you can setup one Linux machine as a PXE boot server, and then have all the other machines boot from it and then mount their root filesystem from a NFS share.


  • Debian/Ubuntu Linux installed. This guide assumes using Debian Wheezy, but others should be similar.
  • Network cards that support PXE booting, preferably gigabit speed. Usually all of them support PXE, but may need to be activated from BIOS (look for LAN Boot ROM or similar). In this setup, the server needs 2 NICs.
  • Hard drive only in the PXE boot server
  • Moderate Linux administration skills


The file server does not need much computing power, only a couple GB for file caching, a fast disk, and a fast network adapter. It does not necessarily need to run boinc-client so yo can just skip installing that package. All commands assume you are running as root.

Here’s an outline for the network setup:

Server -- eth1 / --> Internet (NAT masquerade the cluster)
      `-- eth0 / -----> Cluster LAN

Node-1 -- eth0 / -----> Cluster LAN
Node-2 -- eth0 / -----> Cluster LAN
               - static IP assigned by server's DHCP
               - DNS server also

Install requirements on server:

apt-get install nfs-kernel-server tftpd-hpa isc-dhcp-client isc-dhcp-server debootstrap syslinux boinc-manager netplug dnsmasq

Some optional monitoring utilities:

sinfo syslog-ng lm-sensors

Set up the DHCP server

DHCP will assign nodes static IPs by their ethernet MACs.


option domain-name-servers;
option routers;
use-host-decl-names on;

default-lease-time 3600;
max-lease-time 7200;

allow booting;
allow bootp;

log-facility local7;

# If an unknown computer connects, serve IPs>
subnet netmask {
	filename "/pxelinux.0";

host node-1 {
	hardware ethernet 11:22:33:44:55:66;
host node-2 {
	hardware ethernet 12:12:12:12:12:12;

Set up the DNS server



Configure the network

/etc/hosts  server node-1 node-2


auto lo
iface lo inet loopback

auto eth0 eth1
allow-hotplug eth0 eth1

iface eth1 inet dhcp

iface eth0 inet static

Configure forwarding and firewalling

/etc/sysctl.conf (add/uncomment the following lines)

net.ipv4.ip_forward = 1
net.ipv4.conf.default.rp_filter = 1

Now let’s setup iptables:

iptables -F
iptables -t nat -F

export LAN=eth0
export WAN=eth1

iptables -A INPUT -m state --state ESTABLISHED,RELATED -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -m state --state INVALID -j DROP
iptables -A INPUT -i lo -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT -i ${LAN} -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT --protocol icmp -j ACCEPT
iptables -A INPUT --protocol tcp --dport 22 -j LOG --log-prefix "SSH "
iptables -A INPUT -p tcp -m tcp --dport 22 -j ACCEPT

iptables -I FORWARD -i ${LAN} -d -j DROP
iptables -A FORWARD -i ${LAN} -s -j ACCEPT
iptables -A FORWARD -i ${WAN} -d -j ACCEPT
iptables -t nat -A POSTROUTING -o ${WAN} -j MASQUERADE

iptables -P INPUT DROP
iptables -P FORWARD DROP

This means iptables will accept everything from the LAN interface, while rejecting everything except SSH from the WAN interface. LAN connections to WAN will also be masqueraded.

To restore settings automatically after reboot:

iptables-save > /etc/tables.conf
echo '#!/bin/sh' > /etc/network/if-up.d/iptables
echo "iptables-restore < /etc/tables.conf" >> /etc/network/if-up.d/iptables
chmod +x /etc/network/if-up.d/iptables
chmod 750 /etc/tables.conf

Creating the NFS system

It is recommended to put all shares on /srv. For example:

cd /srv
mkdir mainfs node-1 node-2 tftpboot

All nodes mount /srv/mainfs as their root filesystem and then /srv/node-# on /var/lib/boinc-client so that each instance has their own BOINC data directory.

Now we need to bootstrap the installation:

debootstrap wheezy /srv/mainfs

After that, mainfs should have a “barebones” Debian installation.

Configure your installation


auto lo
iface lo inet loopback
iface eth0 inet manual

You could change the password before booting with the following:

chroot /srv/mainfs

While chrooted, install the node’s requirements:

apt-get update
apt-get install libc6-i386 nfs-common boinc-client sinfo syslog-ng lm-sensors

Then close the terminal.

Configuring TFTPD


TFTP_OPTIONS="--secure --listen -vvv"


Assuming we use the stock kernel version 3.2.0-4-amd64:

cp /boot/*3.2.0-4-amd64 /srv/tftpboot/
mkdir /srv/tftpboot/pxelinux.cfg
cp /usr/lib/syslinux/pxelinux.0 /srv/tftpboot


LABEL linux
KERNEL vmlinuz-3.2.0-4-amd64
APPEND root=/dev/nfs initrd=initrd.img-3.2.0-4-amd64 nfsroot= ip=dhcp rw

Configuring the NFS mounts



Now we need to also specify the mounts on client-side.


proc            /proc           proc    defaults        0       0
/dev/nfs       /               nfs    defaults          1       1
none            /tmp            tmpfs   defaults        0       0
none            /var/run        tmpfs   defaults        0       0
none            /var/lock       tmpfs   defaults        0       0
none            /var/tmp        tmpfs   defaults        0       0
/dev/hda        /media/cdrom0   udf,iso9660 user,noauto 0       0

We can’t include conditional mounts based on hostname in fstab, so we need to create a script that runs on boot to mount something on client’s /var/lib/boinc-client.


#! /bin/sh
# Provides:          mount-boinc-data
# Required-Start:    mountnfs
# Required-Stop:
# Should-Start:
# Default-Start:     2 3 4 5
# Default-Stop:      0 1 6
# Short-Description: Wait for network data filesystems to be mounted

. /lib/init/vars.sh
. /lib/lsb/init-functions

mount_nfs_data() {
	[ -f /sbin/mount.nfs ] || return
	[ -f /bin/hostname ] || return

	# Wait for each path, the timeout is for all of them as that's
	# really the maximum time we have to wait anyway

	log_action_begin_msg "Waiting for $NFSDIR"
	mount.nfs $NFSDIR $MOUNTPT
	sleep 0.1

	TIMEOUT=$(( $TIMEOUT - 1 ))
	if [ $TIMEOUT -le 0 ]; then
		log_action_end_msg 1

	if [ $TIMEOUT -gt 0 ]; then
		log_action_end_msg 0
case "$1" in
		echo "Error: argument '$1' not supported" >&2
		exit 3
		echo "Usage: $0 start|stop" >&2
		exit 3
: exit 0

The crucial bit here is the execution of /bin/hostname which helps mount a share named node-1 etc.

However, boinc-client can’t start before it’s data directory is mounted, so we need to modify /srv/mainfs/etc/init.d/boinc-client. Find a line starting with # Required-Start: and change it to:

# Required-Start:    $local_fs $remote_fs mount-boinc-data

Set permissions:

chmod a+x /srv/mainfs/etc/init.d/*

Configure network syslogging

To monitor multiple machines it is recommended to send the syslogs to a centralized log server, in this case, the NFS server.

/etc/syslog-ng/syslog-ng.conf (change existing or add the lines)

options { flush_lines(0); use_dns(no); use_fqdn(no);
		owner("root"); group("adm"); perm(0640); stats_freq(0);

source s_net { tcp(ip( port(1000)); };
destination remote { file("/var/log/remote/$FULLHOST"); file("/dev/tty10"); };
log { source(s_net); destination(remote); };


destination d_console_all { file("/dev/tty10"); };
destination d_net { tcp("" port(1000) log_fifo_size(1000)); };

Then remove all destination lines having /var/log like this:

destination d_something { file("/var/log/something"); };

Now you can view messages from the whole cluster on tty10 or browse logs on /var/log/remote.

Configure BOINC management


By default, BOINC will put configuration files in their data directory. Let’s make sure all nodes use the same configuration by symlinking them to the same files.

mkdir /srv/node-default
cd /srv/node-default
ln -s /etc/ssl/certs/ca-certificates.crt ca-bundle.crt
ln -s /etc/boinc-client/cc_config.xml cc_config.xml
ln -s /etc/boinc-client/global_prefs_override.xml global_prefs_override.xml
ln -s /etc/boinc-client/gui_rpc_auth.cfg gui_rpc_auth.cfg
ln -s /etc/boinc-client/remote_hosts.cfg remote_hosts.cfg

Copy the template directory to any newly created nodes:

cp -f /srv/node-default/* /srv/node-1/


Configure SSH key login

It is recommended to setup RSA key login to the cluster nodes.

ssh-keygen -t rsa
mkdir -m 700 -p /srv/mainfs/root/.ssh
cat ~/.ssh/id_rsa.pub > /srv/mainfs/root/.ssh/authorized_keys

To disable remote password login, just set PasswordAuthentication no in /srv/mainfs/etc/ssh/sshd_config or /etc/ssh/sshd_config.

Wrapping up

To finish, reboot the server because configuration has been changed. Then attempt to PXE boot a node, and watch tty10 for any messages if problems arise. If all is okay, you should be able to SSH to the node.

In the BOINC manager, connect to the node IP such as and then attempt to attach to a project. Make sure the individual NFS mounts are working before starting multiple instances!

If you installed sinfo on each machine, now it’s time to monitor the cluster (e.g. stare aimlessly in awe at the status screen):

sinfo -snd2 -t3 -c full

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