Beowulf: a new approach to supercomputing

The key to this kind of bargain-basement supercomputing is tying together standard PCs with Linux. The combination of low-cost, universally available source code and the open source development model that Linux offers makes it practical to build high-performance computers cheaply.

Linux also offers a way around the software bottleneck that has plagued supercomputers for years. Don't think that using standard processors is limiting. The current supercomputer champ, ASCI Red at Sandia National Labs, uses 9632 Intel processors to crank out a 2379.6 on the standard Linpack Rmax benchmark.

The reason these systems are so effective is that there are a great many very big, very complicated problems that naturally break down into iterations of the same, much simpler, problem. That describes everything from forecasting the weather to doing computer animation to running large, computationally-intense business applications. While the parts of the problem may be mind-numbingly complex by human standards, the processor in even a $2000 PC can handle them without breaking a sweat. If you can divide the project among multiple processors and let them work on their parts at the same time, you can reduce enormously the time it takes to get a solution.

Some problems, by their nature, don't divide into chunks that you can parcel out among processors. And there are others whose chunks are too large to run on a single microprocessor, or even an SMP (symmetrical multiprocessing) cluster. Tasks which require very large amounts of traffic between each node (more, say, than 2Gbit/s) are also unsuited to Beowulf design at present, since the network connecting the machines will necessarily determine the maximum amount of data each node can receive or transmit.

A Beowulf-class computer is now a recognised designation in the supercomputer community, and the list of such computers is up in the hundreds and growing every day. For an in-depth analysis of the type of Beowulf machines, and the software that is now being put together to run them, go to the Enterprise section of LinuxWorld.com.au.

Join the PC World newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Rick Cook

PC World
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Kathy Cassidy

STYLISTIC Q702

First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni

STYLISTIC Q572

For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?