[Beowulf] why we need cheap, open learning clusters

Lux, Jim (337C) james.p.lux at jpl.nasa.gov
Sun May 12 12:11:52 PDT 2013

On 5/12/13 11:52 AM, "Joe Landman" <landman at scalableinformatics.com> wrote:

>I had forgotten to plug this, but have a gander here:
>Cluster in a box, by one of our (Beowulf's) own.

Yes.. I had mentioned that some emails ago..

BUT.. I wonder whether it being "in a box" would discourage tinkering? My
gut feel is that when things start to look like a computer (e.g. In a box,
with connectors, and screws holding the case on) that institutional forces
(and of bigger concern, user psychology) start to consider it a "box that
shall remain closed for the following reasons:<list of reasons here>"...

A bunch of arduinos or rPis laying on a table, or the open frame LittleFE,
or even the (popular a decade ago) bakers rack with midtower PCs stacked
on it (as seen in the wikipedia entry for Beowulf cluster) is clearly
something that has "user serviceable parts" at some scale.  You're not
going to have some administrator coming in going "oh my gosh, why are the
screws removed from that piece of equipment".

Ideally, I think you'd want whatever you have to be small, cheap, etc
enough so that nobody is inspired to stick an inventory tag on it, or have
it show up in a database of "computing equipment".  At JPL, nobody comes
by every year to count my arduinos. If I blow one up by hooking up the
power or interfaces wrong, we throw it away.  A box of LittleFE parts
would probably be the same, but if I assembled it into a LittleFE, it
would probably wind up with an inventory sticker. And once it has that
sticker, there's a whole set of rules about "accountable property".  If
you modify it, you need permission. If you cannibalize it, you need
permission, etc.  JPL is probably more rigid about these things than the
usual educational institution, but there are still those sorts of issues
(particularly if you're using gov't grant money to buy it).

You'd hate to be the subject of an investigative news story "Instructor
cannot account for 10% of supercomputers bought with government money",
when what they are talking about is 1 of your 10 LittleFEs having been
cannibalized for spare parts.

Of some interest would be whether the LittleFE folks think that using rPis
instead Via Mobos would be worthwhile.  By the time you stick a SD card in
the Pi and arrange power supplies, I'm not sure the price difference is
all that much. 

And LittleFE is truly commodity.. The architecture doesn't care which
Mini-ITX mobo you get.. If you want to stack up Intel D2550s instead of
the Via boards, it's no real matter.  There's no rPi commodity clone, yet.

There are LOTS of Arduino clones, for what it's worth.

Or what about Gumstix (non-standard form factor, and more expensive than
mini-ITX boards or other alternatives)


More information about the Beowulf mailing list