[Beowulf] Cheapie cluster comments

steve_heaton at ozemail.com.au steve_heaton at ozemail.com.au
Sun Dec 19 21:37:02 PST 2004

G'day all

I'd like to share my experience on cheap cluster development. I've just completed the 1st round of a similar exercise :) 

Slogging towards my Masters in astronomy (part time), I've developed a passion for Large Scale Structure dynamics (galaxies whizzing around at 100's km/s). Modelling this kind of environment means lots of N-body calculations (gravitationally bound particles). I knew what I wanted my cluster to do :)

I agree that "custom" frameworks are dead money. Down this path would have been aluminium sections, nuts and bolts, lots of drilling and cutting etc etc. Instead, while researching cheapie cases, I found a custom "case" product from Lubic. Their kits are basically a framework of ready cut aluminium sections, slider plates, screws to suit and some other PC friendly extensions. 

I could build the framework I needed without cutting anything (except MDF for mounting the mobos). I can also easily change the "chassis" to suit the cluster as it evolves. If I decide to decommission the cluster, I'm sure the framework will end up as my next robotics platform... or a coffee table ;) 

There are probably similar (cheaper) frame solutions out there too. I recently saw some retail shop displays made of similar materials :) Custom frames can be a good solution if made with reusable materials.

My (mostly) 2nd hand 4 node dual Slot1 P3 500MHz, 128MB, 10GB IDE HDD, onboard FastE + PCI GigaE has come in a shade under A$1500 :) I hope to have some benchmarking results and photos available after silly season. Obviously not bleeding edge performance but on this code it kills my P4 3GHz, 512MB box that cost a similar amount. 

Current generation CPUs don't come in under my budget criteria. It'll be interesting when I retire the P3's to see how the bang-per-buck Xeon vs Opteron go in a couple of years! =)

...now if I add in the KKH dwarf clusters to the LG and some hydrodynamics code for the intergalactic gas...


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