SCrappy Cluster

  • Posted October 8, 2008. Last modified July 17, 2011 by

This project is one I’ve recently started after received a bunch of old unwanted computers from a local college been working on for quite some time. The plan is to connect them together beowulf-style with the hope that I can get better performance from a group of computers for my simulations than a single computer. This challenge is somewhat interesting to me since the computers in my collection are quite old (ranging from pentium mmx to pentium 4) compared to my fairly recent core 2 duo. Hence my name for this project. This project was inspired by the microwulf project, except instead of using commodity hardware I’m using free hardware so my performance per dollar = even better 😛

microwulf cluster
Original Microwulf Cluster

The Case

Originally, I tried to use a case design that was similar to the microwulf project, but found that plexiglass was too difficult to work with for someone like me, who is not particularly handy with tools. Also plexiglass turns out to be expensive when you do not have a source of cheap recycled bits like the original project had. So because of this I decided to go the route of some other similar projects and re-purpose some IKEA furniture. I found an IKEA laundry shelving unit that looked like it would fit the motherboards and have some spare room for the power supplies. Each tray within the shelving unit slides out to allow for easy adjustments to any of the individual computers. I hope to get some pictures of the new case up soon, but for now you can see the original try I had at the plexiglass case. I suppose I could have used thicker plexiglass or something as well, but the cost was a little prohibitive. The IKEA case was around 50 dollars so much cheaper (especially considering I would need alot of extra plexiglass to account for my mistakes).

Scrappy Cluster (version 2.0)
SCrappy Cluster, Jason Ernst 2009
SCrappy Cluster (version 1.0)

Powering the Cluster

The plan is to find a way to have a single power button turn on all of the computers simultaneously. Each computer will still have it’s own power supply so there will need to be some way to splice the power button wire across all of the motherboards.

Booting the Distributed OS & Operating System Choice

At first my plan was just to have one computer with a hard drive and use NFS to split up the disk space between all of the compute nodes. Unfortunately, more than half of the motherboards are so old that they do not support PXE through the network cards. My backup plan was to use a bunch of cheap USB sticks to give each PC a local “disk” with its own small operating system that communicates with the host machine. Unfortunately the motherboards in many of them also do not support this type of booting. So I’m left with two options. Either use some of the many old junky hard disks I have laying around in each of these computers or look into using some kind of openbios or linuxbios type of system and enable pxe booting through that somehow. I’m more attracted to the second option but I haven’t decided for sure yet. This project has actually become quite a hobby for me, and I’ve decided to try my hand at writing a hobby os to use on the cluster. You can see progress on this at the POS Project page.

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