Thursday, 13 August 2009

Economy SuperComputing

As is well known, I have a fascination with making cheap old machines usable.

Now I havn't moved on to building beowulf machines in the garage but I was interested in a post in the US Chronicle of Higher Education about how a college built itself a supercomputer out of machines bought on ebay.

This isn't the first time I've come across this - back in 2002 when I was at York, my former colleague Rob Fletcher built a beowulf machine in his office out of old classroom machines and has since moved on to a condor cluster built out of bits of an old blade based beowulf cluster.

Now there's a message here, Not only do my travels with an Asus netbook, and my various experiments with economy computing show that normal bread and butter computing is perfectly possible user older and or lower powered hardware, in part by choosing more efficient operating systems and in part by moving a lot of the standard tasks out onto the web, albeit with a concomitant requirement for pervasive internet access, but also that quite sophsticated academic computing can be done fairly cheaply - the hardware to crunch your data doesn't have to be that expensive.

And while Rob building a Beowulf cluster in his office makes a good after-dinner story, it means that universities in poorer countries can access reasonable computing power at a low cost, making it possible for an epidemiologist in Malawi, say, able to cruch his own data and crucially build local expertise in computing technologies, which is surely a good thing ...

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