Today I’m going to post about the beautiful new creation by Joshua Kiepert a student at Boise State University. Using nothing but the cheap little $40-50 Raspberry Pi mini computers. These computers may not be anything ‘super’ in and of themselves. Each unit hosts a simple 1GHz processor (after overclocking the stock 700MHz) and has a measly 512Mb of RAM onboard. The units are actually intended for micro computing, device control, and simple media streaming applications, or anything else you need a simple Linux computer to do around the house.
But, what happens when you put 32 of them all together? A $2000 supercomputer, that’s what! And that’s exactly what he built. While it might not be anything to make banks or the NSA worried, it’s actually quite a little beast. Capable of putting out a whopping 10.13 GFLOPS of processing power. To put that in perspective, some supercomputer clusters today such as the National Supercomputing Center in China are now running a combined 33.863 PFLOPS (a PFLOP is 1000 GFLOPs). However given the affordable nature of it, it’s a mini force to be reckoned with. Compared to the top supercomputers just a decade ago, it’d certainly rank up there.
Mr. Kiepert was using the system to run some simulations since the University’s supercomputer was unavailable at the time. He built it using a basic Beowulf Cluster which divides the processing tasks up to the different machines and distributes them VIA the NIC on the raspberry pi’s.
I’m now picturing in my mind a supercomputer consisting of hundreds or even thousands of raspberry pi nodes. Perhaps I’d even get more creative and try doing the same thing with the higher end banana pi units. Theoretically there’s little limit to how many nodes you can have in a single Beowulf cluster as far as the software is concerned. The limit is only as big and fast as your network is able to transmit the tasks out from them controlling node computer (which could have a 10Gb/s nic if necessary).
A project I’d love to purpose to the world is this. Let’s build a standard backplane complete with aligned power and NIC ports to plug directly into the butt end of a half dozen raspberry pi’s and have an integrated hub to control the six network ports. Then some standard, cool looking, cases to mount the backplanes. These kits can then be sold to hundreds of people around the world along with instructions of how to build the mini supercomputer. Plus, some extra software offering the option to cloud connect your Beowulf Cluster into a cloud based Super-Super Cluster of hundreds of these units distributed around the world.
While you’re not using your supercomputer, other’s can be via the cloud. So it can be earning money as others use it’s power. Or perhaps a credit system which can earn with your supercomputer then later be used toward your own supercomputing tasks you need to offload to the global cloud.