[Beowulf] What's the category of Beowulf among Clusters?

Douglas Eadline deadline at eadline.org
Sun Dec 21 11:08:50 PST 2008

> You'd have to ask Don Becker about that. He chose the name when he built
> the
> first one a few years ago.  http://www.beowulf.org/ has a little history.
Actually, it was Tom Sterling, from the Linux mag article:

Why “Beowulf?”

It’s possible that you’ve read this far for the single purpose of finding
out where the name “Beowulf” came from. For a long time, we used the cover
story about seeking a metaphor for the little guy defeating the big bully,
as in “David and Goliath.” The cover story continued that “Goliath” had
already been used by a famous historic computer, and the giant was the
wrong side of the metaphor anyway. However, I didn’t think I would ever
get famous building a computer named “David.”

Searching other cultures for equivalent folklore, I recalled the epic saga
of Beowulf, the Scandinavian hero who saved the Hrothgar’s Danish kingdom
by defeating the monster Grendel. (I didn’t need to search the archives of
ancient civilizations to discover the saga of Beowulf. My mother did her
graduate studies in old and Middle English literature and I was brought up
on the stuff.) Good story, but completely untrue; so, I discarded the name
as a possibility.

But in truth, I’d been struggling to come up with some cutesy acronym and
failing miserably. With some small embarrassment, you can find examples of
this in our early papers, which included such terms as “piles of PCs” and
even “PoPC.” The first term was picked up by others at least briefly.
Thankfully, the second never was.

Then one afternoon, Lisa, Jim Fischer’s accounts manager, called me and
said, “I’ve got to file paperwork in 15 minutes and I need the name of
your project fast!” or some words to that effect. I was desperate. I
looked around my office for inspiration, which had eluded me the entire
previous month, and my eyes happened on my old, hardbound copy of Beowulf,
which was lying on top of a pile of boxes in the corner. Honestly, I
haven’t a clue why it was there. As I said, I was desperate. With the
phone still in my hand and Lisa waiting not all that patiently on the
other end, I said, “What the hell, call it ‘Beowulf.’ No one will ever
hear of it anyway.” End of story.

But the other truth is I didn’t actually name Beowulf, the computer. I
only named Beowulf, the project. Someone out there in the land of the
press coined the term “Beowulf-class system,” not me. I would love to know
who it was. That’s the real irony: I get the credit for naming Beowulf
clusters and actually I didn’t do it.


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