Cluster Computing: Strength In Numbers

beowulf manuscriptThe three great battles against monsters by Beowulf, heroic king of the Geats, are described in a circa 1000 AD English poem named for the king. A Beowulf computer cluster, such as OIT’s adrOIT cluster, is used to do battle with our faculty’s computationally intensive programs.
Originally developed at NASA, there is no particular piece of hardware or software that defines a cluster as Beowulf, but generally it consists of many identical inexpensive off the shelf PCs running a UNIX-like operating system. The processors share disks and software libraries, though not memory. The nodes of a Beowulf cluster communicate via message passing software.

beowulf clusterWith our partner, Dell Computer Corporation, OIT has been able to provide faculty with a high-end Beowulf cluster since June 2003. Our adrOIT Beowulf cluster consists of 32 Intel-based dual processor 2.4GHz Dell PowerEdge PCs plus a similar processor as the master node. Each node has 2 GB of RAM and an 18 GB hard disk. There is also a terabyte (a trillion bytes) of shared disk storage. The entire cluster is monitored by a MS Windows 2000 server. All nodes run RedHat Linux 7.3 and support both MPI and PVM for message passing.
Today there is no charge for the use of this powerful facility. It may be used by students and faculty who need high performance computing as well as a teaching tool for learning parallel computing. There are many adrOIT users including Chemistry, Computer Science, Economics, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Molecular Biology, Physics, PACM, several undergraduate classes and others.

Is our adrOIT cluster a supercomputer?

ibm bluegeneA supercomputer is one that leads the world in speed. Obviously that has changed over time. The current list of the fastest computers may be found at energy department reported that an IBM BlueGene/L was clocked at a record 135.5 teraFLOPS (135.5 trillion floating point operations per second) on 3/24/05. A floating point operation is a basic calculation, such as multiplication, of two decimal numbers.
z1The fastest computer in 1938 was the Zuse Z1 rated at 1 floating point operation per second. It was designed by Konrad Zuse and kept in his parent’s apartment. In the 1980’s Cray computers, such as the Cray 2 at 3.9 billion FLOPS, dominated the supercomputer arena. To get some sense of the enormous difference in speed, the BlueGene above could do the same amount of computing in 15.1 minutes that the Cray 2 could do in a year.
cray supercomputerSince the Cray 2 had more raw computing power than our adrOIT cluster, adrOIT is not a supercomputer. However, for Princeton students and faculty with intensive computational needs it is a great resource. If you have any questions about the cluster, or to obtain your adrOIT account, please contact Curt Hillegas by e-mail at or by phone at 8-6033 or visit the web site at

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