Beowulf: Defined by Change, Empowering Individual Creativity

By Thomas Sterling

November 10, 2016

It was 23 years ago this November when a small NASA project, whimsically called “Beowulf,” was initiated to find a new way of achieving order of magnitude improvement in performance to cost. The goal was to provide a sustained performance greater than 1 Gigaflops on real applications for under $50,000, in order to allow single computational scientists access to dedicated data analysis resources. There were several opportunities, including reduction of contention for and reduced latency of mass storage of scientific data and its usage.

The Beowulf project, funded under the NASA HPCC ESS program and guided by the Goddard Space Flight Center, undertook this path after a year of exploring alternative methods available through commercial products. The idea of clusters was hardly new and extended back almost a decade. But the formula of hardware and software synthesized to develop low-cost scalable computing from consumer-grade COTS products was unique in its form and valuable in its accessibility, flexibility of configuration, low cost, and ultimately its empowerment of many contributors (within the US and internationally).

I did the math that demonstrated the opportunity and viable trajectory. And, yes, I named the project and then hired the team. Today, more than 80 percent of the systems of the Top500 list are commodity clusters, and more than 95 percent of all supercomputers on that list employ one or another variation of the Linux operating system, which we introduced to the HPC community through the Beowulf project. Every year there are student cluster competitions at the SC and international ISC conferences, as well as many others specific to different nations.

But back in 2002, I made a mistake. Beowulf clusters had become an effective means of low cost medium-scale computing in academia, industry, and national labs, such that vendors started repackaging nodes for rack-mounting, changing their new COTS computing nodes to better serve the computing markets. Networking evolved to serve commodity clusters as well. Beowulf-class systems no longer had to be assembled from the scrap heap of whatever was available — they could now be assembled from subsystems designed for the purpose of building Beowulf-class systems.

Indeed, system integrators such as Dell, Penguin, and others began shipping fully integrated commodity clusters to end-user data centers with software already installed. In an unthinking moment when talking with someone from the press, I quipped that “Beowulf is dead.” Of course this showed up in one or more journals (a lesson there, I think) and I was forced to respond to this article in a keynote address I was about to give at ISC in Heidelberg.

I explained that Beowulf was not dead but in chrysalis, transforming to a new class of user-driven clusters in partnership with vendors in synergy. But what I had not understood, even then, was that metamorphosis was part of Beowulf, not just one point of singularity. Beowulf is never the same, it keeps changing — and for the better. Today we see emerging an entirely new form of Beowulf with the same cultural and performance opportunities as the original generation two dozen years ago, but with entirely new capabilities for students, experimentalists, and OEMs.

A plethora of very inexpensive processing cards are now available from multiple sources and can be acquired for ridiculously little money and assembled with, if anything, greater flexibility than ever before. Examples include the Nvidia Jetson TK-1, the Raspberry PI-3, and the Digilent Zed Boards, all of which are small, single PCB with SOCs, including, but not limited to, multi-core ARM processors.

The Jetson includes the TEGRA K1 GPU; the Zed Board has a Zilinx Aynq SoC with FPGA. And the Raspberry PI-3 at $40 boasts a 64-bit ARM with Fast Ethernet, 1 GigaByte of DRAM, USB and HDMI interfaces, and other elements. These readily available components are firing up the imagination of many and expanding the role of Beowulf clusters from just number and data crunching to embedded parallel systems, and even robotics.

Once again, this Monday, November 14th starting at 9 pm, the Beowulf Bash will be thrown by gracious sponsors, this time at the Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. There is no other event like it at SC, and I am sure that it will attract many new and younger attendees. But this is not just a party of older nostalgia-seeking gray-beards reminiscing about Don Becker’s cool Ethernet Driver software of the mid-90s or the other events that launched this new era. Rather, I expect it will be filled with people talking about Parallella, Raspberry, Jetson, and Zed, and how new thinkers are clustering these in a new generation of Beowulf clusters for innovative purposes.

I look forward to this year’s Beowulf Bash and hearing about what you are doing. I was wrong before. Beowulf will never die, and I hope the Bash lives on as well.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

The Role and Potential of CPUs in Deep Learning

April 14, 2021

Deep learning (DL) applications have unique architectural characteristics and efficiency requirements. Hence, the choice of computing system has a profound impact on how large a piece of the DL pie a user can finally enj Read more…

GTC21: Nvidia Launches cuQuantum; Dips a Toe in Quantum Computing

April 13, 2021

Yesterday Nvidia officially dipped a toe into quantum computing with the launch of cuQuantum SDK, a development platform for simulating quantum circuits on GPU-accelerated systems. As Nvidia CEO Jensen Huang emphasized i Read more…

Nvidia Aims Clara Healthcare at Drug Discovery, Imaging via DGX

April 12, 2021

Nvidia Corp. continues to expand its Clara healthcare platform with the addition of computational drug discovery and medical imaging tools based on its DGX A100 platform, related InfiniBand networking and its AGX develop Read more…

Nvidia Serves Up Its First Arm Datacenter CPU ‘Grace’ During Kitchen Keynote

April 12, 2021

Today at Nvidia’s annual spring GPU technology conference, held virtually once more due to the ongoing pandemic, the company announced its first ever Arm-based CPU, called Grace in honor of the famous American programmer Grace Hopper. Read more…

Nvidia Debuts BlueField-3 – Its Next DPU with Big Plans for an Expanded Role

April 12, 2021

Nvidia today announced its next generation data processing unit (DPU) – BlueField-3 – adding more substance to its evolving concept of the DPU as a full-fledged partner to CPUs and GPUs in delivering advanced computi Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Volkswagen Passenger Cars Uses NICE DCV for High-Performance 3D Remote Visualization

 

Volkswagen Passenger Cars has been one of the world’s largest car manufacturers for over 70 years. The company delivers more than 6 million automobiles to global customers every year, from 50 production locations on five continents. Read more…

Nvidia’s Newly DPU-Enabled SuperPod Is a Multi-Tenant, Cloud-Native Supercomputer

April 12, 2021

At GTC 2021, Nvidia has announced an upgraded iteration of its DGX SuperPods, calling the new offering “the first cloud-native, multi-tenant supercomputer.” The newly announced SuperPods come just two years after the Read more…

The Role and Potential of CPUs in Deep Learning

April 14, 2021

Deep learning (DL) applications have unique architectural characteristics and efficiency requirements. Hence, the choice of computing system has a profound impa Read more…

Nvidia Serves Up Its First Arm Datacenter CPU ‘Grace’ During Kitchen Keynote

April 12, 2021

Today at Nvidia’s annual spring GPU technology conference, held virtually once more due to the ongoing pandemic, the company announced its first ever Arm-based CPU, called Grace in honor of the famous American programmer Grace Hopper. Read more…

Nvidia Debuts BlueField-3 – Its Next DPU with Big Plans for an Expanded Role

April 12, 2021

Nvidia today announced its next generation data processing unit (DPU) – BlueField-3 – adding more substance to its evolving concept of the DPU as a full-fle Read more…

Nvidia’s Newly DPU-Enabled SuperPod Is a Multi-Tenant, Cloud-Native Supercomputer

April 12, 2021

At GTC 2021, Nvidia has announced an upgraded iteration of its DGX SuperPods, calling the new offering “the first cloud-native, multi-tenant supercomputer.” Read more…

Tune in to Watch Nvidia’s GTC21 Keynote with Jensen Huang – Recording Now Available

April 12, 2021

Join HPCwire right here on Monday, April 12, at 8:30 am PT to see the Nvidia GTC21 keynote from Nvidia’s CEO, Jensen Huang, livestreamed in its entirety. Hosted by HPCwire, you can click to join the Huang keynote on our livestream to hear Nvidia’s expected news and... Read more…

The US Places Seven Additional Chinese Supercomputing Entities on Blacklist

April 8, 2021

As tensions between the U.S. and China continue to simmer, the U.S. government today added seven Chinese supercomputing entities to an economic blacklist. The U Read more…

Habana’s AI Silicon Comes to San Diego Supercomputer Center

April 8, 2021

Habana Labs, an Intel-owned AI company, has partnered with server maker Supermicro to provide high-performance, high-efficiency AI computing in the form of new Read more…

Intel Partners Debut Latest Servers Based on the New Intel Gen 3 ‘Ice Lake’ Xeons

April 7, 2021

Fresh from Intel’s launch of the company’s latest third-generation Xeon Scalable “Ice Lake” processors on April 6 (Tuesday), Intel server partners Cisco, Dell EMC, HPE and Lenovo simultaneously unveiled their first server models built around the latest chips. And though arch-rival AMD may... Read more…

Julia Update: Adoption Keeps Climbing; Is It a Python Challenger?

January 13, 2021

The rapid adoption of Julia, the open source, high level programing language with roots at MIT, shows no sign of slowing according to data from Julialang.org. I Read more…

Intel Launches 10nm ‘Ice Lake’ Datacenter CPU with Up to 40 Cores

April 6, 2021

The wait is over. Today Intel officially launched its 10nm datacenter CPU, the third-generation Intel Xeon Scalable processor, codenamed Ice Lake. With up to 40 Read more…

CERN Is Betting Big on Exascale

April 1, 2021

The European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) involves 23 countries, 15,000 researchers, billions of dollars a year, and the biggest machine in the worl Read more…

Programming the Soon-to-Be World’s Fastest Supercomputer, Frontier

January 5, 2021

What’s it like designing an app for the world’s fastest supercomputer, set to come online in the United States in 2021? The University of Delaware’s Sunita Chandrasekaran is leading an elite international team in just that task. Chandrasekaran, assistant professor of computer and information sciences, recently was named... Read more…

HPE Launches Storage Line Loaded with IBM’s Spectrum Scale File System

April 6, 2021

HPE today launched a new family of storage solutions bundled with IBM’s Spectrum Scale Erasure Code Edition parallel file system (description below) and featu Read more…

10nm, 7nm, 5nm…. Should the Chip Nanometer Metric Be Replaced?

June 1, 2020

The biggest cool factor in server chips is the nanometer. AMD beating Intel to a CPU built on a 7nm process node* – with 5nm and 3nm on the way – has been i Read more…

Saudi Aramco Unveils Dammam 7, Its New Top Ten Supercomputer

January 21, 2021

By revenue, oil and gas giant Saudi Aramco is one of the largest companies in the world, and it has historically employed commensurate amounts of supercomputing Read more…

Quantum Computer Start-up IonQ Plans IPO via SPAC

March 8, 2021

IonQ, a Maryland-based quantum computing start-up working with ion trap technology, plans to go public via a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) merger a Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

Can Deep Learning Replace Numerical Weather Prediction?

March 3, 2021

Numerical weather prediction (NWP) is a mainstay of supercomputing. Some of the first applications of the first supercomputers dealt with climate modeling, and Read more…

Livermore’s El Capitan Supercomputer to Debut HPE ‘Rabbit’ Near Node Local Storage

February 18, 2021

A near node local storage innovation called Rabbit factored heavily into Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s decision to select Cray’s proposal for its CORAL-2 machine, the lab’s first exascale-class supercomputer, El Capitan. Details of this new storage technology were revealed... Read more…

New Deep Learning Algorithm Solves Rubik’s Cube

July 25, 2018

Solving (and attempting to solve) Rubik’s Cube has delighted millions of puzzle lovers since 1974 when the cube was invented by Hungarian sculptor and archite Read more…

African Supercomputing Center Inaugurates ‘Toubkal,’ Most Powerful Supercomputer on the Continent

February 25, 2021

Historically, Africa hasn’t exactly been synonymous with supercomputing. There are only a handful of supercomputers on the continent, with few ranking on the Read more…

The History of Supercomputing vs. COVID-19

March 9, 2021

The COVID-19 pandemic poses a greater challenge to the high-performance computing community than any before. HPCwire's coverage of the supercomputing response t Read more…

AMD Launches Epyc ‘Milan’ with 19 SKUs for HPC, Enterprise and Hyperscale

March 15, 2021

At a virtual launch event held today (Monday), AMD revealed its third-generation Epyc “Milan” CPU lineup: a set of 19 SKUs -- including the flagship 64-core, 280-watt 7763 part --  aimed at HPC, enterprise and cloud workloads. Notably, the third-gen Epyc Milan chips achieve 19 percent... Read more…

HPE Names Justin Hotard New HPC Chief as Pete Ungaro Departs

March 2, 2021

HPE CEO Antonio Neri announced today (March 2, 2021) the appointment of Justin Hotard as general manager of HPC, mission critical solutions and labs, effective Read more…

Microsoft, HPE Bringing AI, Edge, Cloud to Earth Orbit in Preparation for Mars Missions

February 12, 2021

The International Space Station will soon get a delivery of powerful AI, edge and cloud computing tools from HPE and Microsoft Azure to expand technology experi Read more…

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire