[Beowulf] $2500 cluster. What it's good for?

Jim Lux jimlux at earthlink.net
Sat Dec 18 07:52:41 PST 2004

I think it would be interesting to contemplate potential uses of a $2500
cluster.  Once you've had the thrill of putting it together and rendering
something with POVray, what next?

You want to avoid the "gosh, I can run 8 times as many Seti at Home units as I
could before" or "Look, I can calculate Pi" kind of
not-particularly-value-laden-to-the-casual-observer tasks.

Sure, there's some value in learning how to build and manage a cluster, but
I think the real value is in doing something useful with that $2500.  So,
what sort of "useful" could one do? Say you were to negotiate with your
spouse to get $2500 to play with (or you were able to get a "mini-grant" at
a high school).  Is there something that is useful to the "general consumer
public" that could be done better with a cluster than with a $2500 desktop

One computationally intensive task that might be applicable is making
panoramas from multiple digital photos.  It's incredibly tedious and time
consuming to stitch together 30 or 40 digital photos into one seamless
panorama (google for PanoTools and PTGui for ideas).

What about kids in school? Is there some simulation that, if clusterized,
would be more interactive and useful?

What about interactive rendering from one of NASA's world view databases:
layering the terrain models and imagery to do "fly bys"?

Are there consumer type iterative optimization problems that could profit
from a cluster?  In my own fooling around, I do lots of antenna simulations,
which are essentially embarassingly parallel.  The ham radio community likes
"scrounged and homebuilt" solutions to problems, so the $2500 cluster is a
potential winner there.

What about outreach to poverty stricken branches of academe who don't use
computers much?  literary analysis searching texts for common phrases?
figuring out how to fit potsherds together?

Jim Lux

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