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Linux Minicluster

Researchers within our center have built a portable cluster computer, roughly the size of a bread box, that can easily be stored in the overhead bin of an airplane. It is used to demonstrate parallel processing of large, numerically intense problems, such as the simulation of molecular interactions or dynamics of complex events, such as chemical reactions and climate change prediction.

A cluster computer normally combines multiple commodity desktop-sized personal computers to work in parallel on problems too large for a single computer. Sandia has developed cluster computers over the past decade as an inexpensive and simple way to meet the Labs’scientific computing requirements. This “breadbox” computer is also made of commodity computer parts, but the parts are small, embedded systems normally intended for use in cars, cell phones and watches (where they are intended to run on batteries), rather than desktop computer components.

The cluster uses the PC104 “embedded system” hardware standard, with units stacked like a club sandwich. All of the components, except the see-through Lexan case, were purchased off-the-shelf from embedded system vendors. Although the four CPUs don’t offer the power and speed of a larger cluster, they will still run software created for cluster computing, so specialists can demonstrate their code at a remote location much like other presenters use laptop computers on the road to present their wares.