value of the Beowulf cluster market

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Tue Jun 25 19:12:10 PDT 2002

On Tue, 25 Jun 2002, Dan Janies wrote:

> Hello
> Does anyone know the current and or projected value of the Beowulf cluster
> market?
> This may have been a recent thread but vigorous web/archive surfing didn't
> produce.

That's because the answer is probably "no".  To begin to build an
answer, you'd have to define your terms pretty carefully.  I go to my
local computer store and buy eight systems, a fast ethernet switch, add
Linux, and put them together into a beowulf in my attic.  Have I
participated in the "Beowulf Cluster Market" or just the generalized
COTS PC market?  A rather large segment (in my unfounded opinion, a
solid majority) of the beowulf clusters that exist are of this sort.

There is a turnkey cluster market that is served by companies and
individuals that do the buying, install a suitable Linux distribution,
assemble the cluster for you, possibly accompanied by value-added
software or custom features.  I don't know that anybody has ever done a
formal analysis of the market -- one would have to figure out all the
companies that do this and get annual reports for the last couple of

As far as projected value is concerned, this is a double crapshoot --
the turnkey market you MIGHT be able to estimate, but this is likely the
tip of a large iceberg (even though there is some impressive ice out
there).  The generalized homebrew market (including homemade rackmount,
shelfmount, distributed/NOW/COW, and so forth) I wouldn't know how to
begin to estimate.  Many clusters are very small (in my house I have a
half-dozen nodes).  There are also a LOT of midsized clusters, and they
add up.  In our department we have 68 nodes in six "distinct" small
clusters (most of them dual processors) that are on a common network and
CAN be used all together.

The room is shared with another 30-40 nodes from the stats department.
The math department also has a midsized cluster (maybe 64 nodes?).  Then
there are chemistry clusters, biology clusters, genetics clusters -- all
on one campus and in a couple of dozen research groups.  Very few of
them were produced by turnkey vendors.

So what's the "value" of this market to turnkey vendors?  I have no
idea.  At a guess, only 1/5 or so of its "total" value, since beowulf
clusters are by design easy to assemble out of commodity off the shelf


Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

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