Home cluster finally working

A couple of months ago I decided that one of the approaches I should take to the open-ended CPU requirements of my experiments was to build my own cluster.

I budgeted $1000, and found that I could buy 4 bare-bones machines with reasonable CPUs, minimal RAM and no hard drives, together with a UPS and network switch. I also repurposed an old laptop that was no longer doing very much, meaning that I had one machine with drives to use as a server. Initial attemps at getting these machines booted over ethernet and running diskless failed, so eventually I bought 4 of the cheapest hard drives I could find (taking me just over budget) and finally in the last few days I got them working. The 5 are an openMosix cluster and have now stood up to enough stress testing that it's time to start running real code on them.

Cluster specs

4 budget computers hanging on a wall

1 x Toshiba Satellite laptop with 2GHz Celeron processor, 256Mb RAM, 30Gb hard drive and an 80Gb external drive to back up all of my work, email, address book, calendar and photos.
4 x mongrel machines with 2.8 GHz Celeron D processors, 128Mb RAM and 20Gb hard drives (I couldn't find smaller ones).

Now I can stop being distracted by non-functioning hardware, and get on with the real work. Unless I give in to temptation and buy the kit I'd need to make one of these....


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Nice nerd art!

What are those curved black cords just below the network hook-up on three of the four motherboards? CPU-fan monitoring microphones?

Also, what is the white box perched on top of the 2nd to the left motherboard?

Posted: June 27, 2006 10:53 AM

Hehe, thanks.

The 'cords' are actually USB fans. There should be 4, but (a) one of them died because I stopped the blades too many times while tinkering, and (b) they don't all seem to be necessary, so while it's good and hot I may experiment with using fewer or none at all, since each fan emits some noise and uses some energy, so the less I can use the better.

That white box is a digital thermometer. I have another on my desk, so I can watch for potential overheating and compare the temperature up there with what I'm feeling ~4 feet below. Yesterday was unusually hot for Seattle (>90°), which was quite handy for testing. I know that while the temperature at desk level never got above 85°, that thermometer on top of the cluster reached 99°. Seeing as the hottest day on record for Seattle was only 6 or 7 degrees hotter than yesterday, I think this has confirmed that I don't need to worry about heat dissipation as much as I initially feared.

Posted: June 27, 2006 12:20 PM


really nice setup, dude.

i was thinking about a macmini cluster, but I may have more brain power using a clean and nice setup, as yours.

wich OS have you used to build this environment? Could you post some "bogomips" thing to have idea of the final processing? could you give some tricks to us who want to build a home cluster (or grid, somehow) as processor better type, (c2d, quad, etc, incompatibilities about them with mosix, or sata maybe -lol-), or fan quality, etc...

sorry about this whole letter and poor english, but i am engaged on clustering and virtualization, both on job and home... this nerd karma turns us nuts...



Posted: May 20, 2007 10:27 PM

Nothing to apologise for. Your English is perfectly clear, and I've had far worse-written comments from people whose first language appears to be English....

As for advice, I'm not the ideal source for it as in the end I did have a great deal of trouble getting this stuff all working, but here are a few things I can share:

- I eventually had to put the machines in cases, and find something else to do with all the nails in my wall. This was because there was enough static to cause occasional random crashes when the machines were all uninsulated as in the photo.

- a Mac Mini cluster will be _much_ easier to get up and running, but cost considerably more for the equivalent number/speed of CPUs. If you have the money, I'd encourage you to go with the Mac Minis. If you have more time than money, then DIY.

- Be wary of tailoring your system too narrowly to current needs. I set mine up with an extreme concentration of resources on the CPUs, because that was what I needed at the time. A year later, my needs have changed, and I now have 4 machines that it's hard for me to make good use of without investing a good deal more money in upgrades.

- Consider power consumption when you buy your hardware. My home electricity consumption for a month in which I use the cluster heavily is 10-15 kWh higher than a month in which the cluster is switched off. That translates to about $300/year in electricity bills at prevailing local rates, so spending a little more on components that would have burned less power would have been worth it as an investment.

Posted: May 20, 2007 11:35 PM

Oh, also you may be better off spending $n on a single 2 x dual core CPU machine with one good hard drive, one large quantity of RAM, and no need to mess around with clustering software, instead of 4 lower-spec machines.

Posted: May 20, 2007 11:40 PM


thank you for the replie.

so, I am considering buy a powerfull machine than cluster 3 worst ones.

[ ]s


Posted: May 23, 2007 11:07 PM

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