[Beowulf] Supercomputers - iPad versus Cray

Ellis H. Wilson III ellis at cse.psu.edu
Thu Mar 8 12:47:29 PST 2012

On 03/08/2012 02:45 PM, Prentice Bisbal wrote:
> Man climbed the mountain, because it was there, and techies will
> continue to build clusters and other things out of unusual hardware
> merely because they are there, too.

I'm not certain the mountain metaphor follows.  For instance, I'm not 
going to jump out of the window next to my desk just because it is 
there, because surviving it will be challenging, or because it will 
entertain people watching me attempt it.  There's more going on with 
mountains and with this iPad clustering.

> At the risk of being flamed, I think some of you are missing the point.
> Neither the Register article or Dongarra's article were advocating for
> the building clusters from iPads, I think they only meant to show how
> far computing hardware has come in terms of power and cost.

I remember reading a similar article comparing TI-83s and Eniac a long 
time ago.  It was excellent, interesting, pointed, and hit on the latter 
point you mention (progress of computer science).  However, that article 
didn't suggest that we should take TI-83s and make a cluster out of 
them, or even worse, that doing so is appealing for power reasons. 
Whether or not the article on the Reg argues to use them as a cluster is 
up in the air, but the the NYT article absolutely suggests that there 
could be some benefits to it:

"Meanwhile, the fact that the iPad runs off a battery and is air-cooled 
has given Dr. Dongarra some ideas, like building a supercomputer 
composed of a couple of stacks of the tablets.
“It could be done and provide a very power-friendly cluster,” he said.

> To say that people should only build clusters out of the proper hardware
> is like telling artists to throw out their paints and brushes since we
> now have cameras, that do a better job than they can.

Again, weird analogy IMHO.  I don't pay an artist to have a picture of 
something so I know what it looks like or can remember it later.  If 
this was the 1200s and we didn't have photographs, then yes, that would 
be exactly what would happen.  While back then many got portraits who 
could afford them, and higher prices were paid for higher fidelity 
pictures relative to reality, as soon as cameras hit the scene the 
demand lessened and artists indeed put down their brushes for that 
purpose.  Modern art is (mostly) interpretive, and tries as hard as 
possible to avoid doing work that cameras can do.

> BTW - I'd never waste my time building a cluster out of iPads, but I
> defend the right of others to do so if that's what turns them on.

I'm right there with you Prentice -- I'd even enjoy reading an article 
about just such a cluster if one was built, for the same absurdity 
factor that the furbie cluster was supported.  Weird things are fun. 
But I don't defend the right of intelligent people to mislead the public 
(via the Reg and NYT) into actually believing there is something 
scientifically appealing about doing supercomputing with iPads.  Sorry 
Apple, even you guys can't make hardcore computer science chic.  It just 
doesn't work that way.



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