University builds cluster in a day; fails to make list

Students and staff at the University of San Francisco failed in their attempt last Saturday to build a supercomputer that would run a benchmark fast enough to secure it a place in the Top 500 list of supercomputers.

The so-called Flashmob Computing 1 supercomputer, which was built out of laptop and desktop PCs brought in by volunteers, managed to achieve a performance rating of 180 gigaflops with 256 nodes. It had spent 70 minutes calculating 75 percent of a standard benchmark that all Top 500 hopefuls have to run, before a bad network connection on one of the nodes caused the entire system to collapse.

Volunteers brought in 700 computers on Saturday, which was less than half of the anticipated number. The Flashmob team had built the software required to run the test so that it could pinpoint problems with CPU and memory, but it hadn't anticipated problems at the client networking level. After much testing and axing of some bad nodes, the team decided to run a benchmark test with just 256 computers.

"Although (the computers' network connections) are meant to be rated 100 Base-T, maybe some of them weren't so high. It was a transient networking bug," said Pat Miller, a computer scientist at the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and a USF lecturer, whose do-it-yourself supercomputer class sparked the original Flashmob Computing idea.

The university had anticipated volunteers to turn up on the day with 1,400 computers, which would create a supercomputer boasting 600 gigaflops of processing power -- enough to crunch the benchmark in under four hours. That rating would enable Flashmob to barely make the bottom of the next list that's published in June.

Despite the outcome, the university called the event an "unconditional success" in that it showed the scientific community that a supercomputer could be built using "ordinary" machines. A system packing a performance rating of 180 gigaflops would be big enough to do plasma modeling, said Greg Benson, assistant professor of Computer Science at USF.

The event attracted many big-name speakers, including Jim Gray, Distinguished Engineer in Microsoft's Scalable Servers Research Group, William Thigpen chief of engineering branch of NAS (NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division) and Horst Simon, a director of the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center.

Also at the event to watch history unfold were two men who had made their mark on the industry decades before: Gene Amdahl, founder of one of IBM's archrivals Amdahl Corp., and Gordon Bell, inventor of Digital Equipment's VAX minicomputer.

Both Miller and Benson say they will be involved in other Flashmob efforts with the scientific community, and that many universities across the world had contacted USF with an interest in setting up Flashmob 2.

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.

Linda Leung

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

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

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

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

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.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?