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

Douglas Eadline, Cluster World Magazine deadline at linux-mag.com
Sun Dec 19 10:58:28 PST 2004

On Sat, 18 Dec 2004, Jim Lux wrote:

> 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?

That is the $64,000 dollar question. Here is my 2 cent answer.
BTW, your ideas are great. I would love to see a discussion like this 
continue because we all know the hardware is easy part!

There is part of this project which has a "build it and they will come
(and write software)" dream. Not being that naive, I believe there are
some uses for systems like this. The indented audience are not the
uber-cluster-geeks on this list, but rather the education, home, hacker,
crowd. In regards to education, I think if cluster technology is readily
available, then perhaps students will look to these technologies to solve
problems. And who knows maybe the "Lotus 123 of the cluster" will be built
by some person or persons with some low cost hardware and an idea everyone
said would not work.

If you have followed the magazine, you will see that we highlighted 
many open projects that are useful today. From an educational standpoint, 
a small chemistry/biology department that can do quantum chemistry, 
protein folding, or sequence analysis  is pretty interesting to me. 
There are others ares as well. 

There are also some other immediate things like running Mosix or Condor
on the cluster. A small group that has a need for a computation server
could find this useful for single process computational jobs.

I also have an interest in seeing a cluster version of Octave or SciLab
set to work like a server. (as I recall rgb had some reasons not to use
these high level tools, but we can save this discussion for later)

What I can say as part of the project, we will be collecting a software 
list of applications and projects.

Finally, once we all have our local clusters and software running to our
hearts content, maybe we can think about a grid to provide spare compute
cycles to educational and public projects around the world. 

Oh well, enough Sunday afternoon philosophizing. 


> 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
> machine?
> 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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