Encompassing the Whole World Front Page /// Companies /// Site Index

Trying to build a beowulf cluster

I will try and keep this construction diary up to date as I progress towards having a fully functioning cluster.

Having been into Linux and parallel processing since 1996, I thought that it might be a good idea to try and build myself a beowulf cluster. For a few months, I have been collecting the odd bit of hardware here and there, but I just recently (2001/03/14) had a bit of luck.

My local computer shop 2ndtoNunn, (now Marken) was having a tidy up, and found that at the back of their warehouse they had 34 zenith 486 pc's. They were able to sell them to me, and early today (2001/03/19) they delivered them, with 34 3com 3c509 etherlink 3 10mb network cards.

So, now I have a kitchen full of 486's, what do I do with them? The first and most tedious thing is to take each machine, and find out exactly what I've just bought.

Six hours later I find that I have the following configuration:
12 working 486 pc's with network card, 8mb of ram and 200mb of hard disk space
4 working 486 pc's with network cards, 4mb of ram and 200mb of hard disk space
12 486 pc's with some problem or other
6 486 pc's that I could not test
18 spare network cards
1 spare motherboard, case and power supply.

Note: This is not the final configuration, just the initial accounting to find out what I have got to work with. This takes up 3 foot by 2 foot by 6 foot, an will probably use about 3kwh of electricity (about the same as a 3 bar electric fire) if I can get all of the nodes working.

So here I am waiting for some hubs, cat 5 network cable, and extra memory to arrive, so that I can move on to the next step, and start connecting them together, and installing linux on them. That is going to be the next tricky bit, as the drives are just dissimilar enough so that I can't install on 1 machine and then clone the drive to all of the others.

This will be done by choosing the easiest of the 12 8mb machines, and getting that 1 installed with a minimum install, which will then have just enough extra stuff added to do what it needs to do.

The next thing to arrive was 92 small hard disk drives (under 320 Mb) which arrived on 2001/05/16. These will need testing and their contents archiving before being installed into the cluster.

Also arrived on 2001/05/29 was a box full of memory cards, and a couple of 16 port network hubs. Unfortunately, due to health considerations, I have not yet had time to intigrate the extra memory and hard drives.

Also, I am currently in need of a driving problem, something that the cluster should be used to help solve. I have a few half hearted ideas at the moment, but nothing that leaps out and grabs me as an obvious thing that my cluster should be used for. Unfortunately, most of the suggestions so far seem to be to use it as a picture rendering system, which is not a sensible option in this case.

Any ideas for what problem to try and tackle, or for a name for my cluster, would be greatly welcomed. You can E-mail me and they will be posted to this page along with the rest of the news.