How to Build a Super Computer From Ten PCs

by Lester Godsey

Super computers have come about due to demand for high-capacity computational power. Applications such as medical research and weather analysis are just two examples of real-world application of such technology. According to Top 500 Supercomputer Sites, more than 78 percent of the top 500 super computers in the world run Linux, a open source operating system. Because open source software allows access to the code behind the program, this solution is very popular with super computer projects.

1

Set up the main computer, or node. If the 10 computers are not identical, determine the most powerful computer as this should be what controls the cluster. Install Linux on this computer and install the features you want. While there are a number of packages to choose from the Linux software, the only ones you are required to install to set up the cluster are NFS (network file system) and SSH (secure shell). Specifically, NFS makes it easier to share files between systems, affecting setup of the super computer. SSH is a secure, safe way to remotely connect from one computer to another, critical in the case of setting up a 10-computer super computer cluster.

2

Install MPI (message passing interface) on your computer. This is used to allow the main computer control of the other computers in the super computer cluster. LAM is a popular choice and like many distributions of Linux, it is an open source option. Depending on your hardware, you might be able to find a pre-compiled version of the MPI software you have selected. If not, you will need to compile it yourself or get other hardware that is supported.

3

Set up the member or slave computers. The only Linux software you should need is NFS and SSH. While you can install additional packages, chances are good that you will never need access to them from this member node as you will be working through the main computer once the super computer cluster is operational.

4

Verify installation. Reboot all the machines and see if each one comes on. See if you can connect to each node from the master. If the hardware appears to be running as designed, invoke your MPI application, whether LAM or another messaging passing interface software.

Tips

  • Accommodate for the power that is not only going to be required for the 10 computers, but the switch/hub, monitor and other peripherals. Make sure the electrical circuit you are plugging everything into can handle the power load. Consider the use of a UPS (universal power supply), especially if this super computer is going to be used for purposes other than personal.
  • Stack the computers in such a way so that each one has adequate air flow. If you cannot afford a rack to mount each computer, make sure nothing restricts the fan's exhausts to avoid overheating.
  • Read the release notes or manuals that come with the software distribution you choose. The process of setting up a 10-workstation super computer is a challenging one and requires an attention to detail.

Warning

  • Depending on how the networking is set up and where it is located, adding a super computer cluster to a work or academic network can not only impact your project, but the operations of your work/school network. You could add so much traffic or network overhead that the performance of other computers in your environment could be adversely affected.

Items you will need

About the Author

Lester Godsey has worked in the information technology field for more than 17 years. Godsey, a certified project management professional, holds a Bachelor of Arts in music and a Master of Science in technology, both from Arizona State University. He also teaches for the University of Phoenix, primarily in I.T. and project management.

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