Cluster Computing Implementations
The TOP500 organization’s semiannual list of the 500 fastest computers usually includes many clusters. TOP500 is a collaboration between the University of Mannheim, the University of Tennessee, and the National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. As of June 18, 2008, the top supercomputer is the Department of Energy’s IBM Roadrunner system with performance of 1026 TFlops measured with High-Performance LINPACK benchmark.
Clustering can provide significant performance benefits versus price. The System X supercomputer at Virginia Tech, the 28th most powerful supercomputer on Earth as of June 2006, is a 12.25 TFlops computer cluster of 1100 Apple XServe G5 2.3 GHz dual-processor machines (4 GB RAM, 80 GB SATA HD) running Mac OS X and using InfiniBand interconnect. The cluster initially consisted of Power Mac G5s; the rack-mountable XServes are denser than desktop Macs, reducing the aggregate size of the cluster. The total cost of the previous Power Mac system was $5.2 million, a tenth of the cost of slower mainframe computer supercomputers. (The Power Mac G5s were sold off.)
The central concept of a Beowulf cluster is the use of commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) computers to produce a cost-effective alternative to a traditional supercomputer. One project that took this to an extreme was the Stone Soupercomputer.
However it is worth noting that FLOPs (floating point operations per second), aren’t always the best metric for supercomputer speed. Clusters can have very high FLOPs, but they cannot access all data in the cluster as a whole has at once. Therefore clusters are excellent for parallel computation, but much poorer than traditional supercomputers at non-parallel computation.
JavaSpaces is a specification from Sun Microsystems that enables clustering computers via a distributed shared memory.
Consumer game consoles
Due to the increasing computing power of each generation of game consoles, a novel use has emerged where they are repurposed into HPC clusters. Some examples of game console clusters are Sony PlayStation clusters and Microsoft Xbox clusters. It has been suggested on a news website that countries which are restricted from buying supercomputing technologies may be obtaining game systems to build computer clusters for military use.
History of cluster computing
The history of cluster computing is best captured by a footnote in Greg Pfister’s In Search of Clusters: “Virtually every press release from DEC mentioning clusters says ‘DEC, who invented clusters…’. IBM did not invent them either. Customers invented clusters, as soon as they could not fit all their work on one computer, or needed a backup. The date of the first is unknown, but it would be surprising if it was not in the 1960s, or even late 1950s.”
The formal engineering basis of cluster computing as a means of doing parallel work of any sort was arguably invented by Gene Amdahl of IBM, who in 1967 published what has come to be regarded as the seminal paper on parallel processing: Amdahl’s Law. Amdahl’s Law describes mathematically the speedup one can expect from parallelizing any given otherwise serially performed task on a parallel architecture.
This article defined the engineering basis for both multiprocessor computing and cluster computing, where the primary differentiator is whether or not the interprocessor communications are supported “inside” the computer (on for example a customized internal communications bus or network) or “outside” the computer on a commodity network.
Consequently the history of early computer clusters is more or less directly tied into the history of early networks, as one of the primary motivation for the development of a network was to link computing resources, creating a de facto computer cluster. Packet switching networks were conceptually invented by the RAND corporation in 1962. Using the concept of a packet switched network, the ARPANET project succeeded in creating in 1969 what was arguably the world’s first commodity-network based computer cluster by linking four different computer centers (each of which was something of a “cluster” in its own right, but probably not a commodity cluster).
The ARPANET project grew into the Internet—which can be thought of as “the mother of all computer clusters” (as the union of nearly all of the compute resources, including clusters, that happen to be connected). It also established the paradigm in use by all computer clusters in the world today—the use of packet-switched networks to perform interprocessor communications between processor (sets) located in otherwise disconnected frames.
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