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Flash Mob Supercomputer? 259

Posted by timothy
from the all-the-cool-kids-are-doing-it dept.
dan of the north writes "The NY Times (free reg yyy bbb) is running an article on flash mob computing. More info on the first event in SF on April 3, 2004. The goal is to run Linpack and "build a home-brew computer powerful enough to be added to a list of the world's 500 fastest computers." Minimum requirements are 1.3 GHZ Pentium III/AMD equivalent or better with 256MB of RAM, a 100 Base-T network connection and a CD-ROM - laptops preferred. "After taking a shot at a speed record, the computer will be reorganized to serve as the host of a giant multiplayer video game tournament." Cool... a 2fer!"
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Flash Mob Supercomputer?

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  • Article Text (Score:4, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:21AM (#8360742)
    Hey, Gang, Let's Make Our Own Supercomputer
    By JOHN MARKOFF

    Published: February 23, 2004

    SAN FRANCISCO, Feb. 22 ? Some class science projects get out of hand.

    That is certainly the case with Patrick Miller's graduate course in do-it-yourself supercomputing at the University of San Francisco. On April 3, his students plan to assemble the first "flash mob supercomputer" in the school gym.

    While brainstorming about how to build a home-brew computer powerful enough to be added to a list of the world's 500 fastest computers, Mr. Miller and his students, along with Gregory D. Benson, an associate professor of computer science, came up with the idea of an electronic barn-raising. They decided to build on the concept of flash mobs, the sudden Internet-organized gatherings with no particular purpose that became an unlikely fad last summer.

    Last week, the class put out a call for about 1,200 volunteers to bring their computers to the Koret Gym here for a day and plug them into a shared high-speed network.

    "This is what happens when crazy ideas catch fire and people say, `Wait, there is nothing to stop this,' " said Mr. Miller, who is a lecturer at the university and a computer scientist at the Center for Applied Scientific Computing at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

    There are already many Internet-connected virtual supercomputers, like the SETI@home project, which uses the spare computing cycles on the personal computers of volunteers to hunt for signs of alien civilizations. Several universities have shown that it is possible to hook hundreds of off-the-shelf personal computers together to create supercomputers. But until now no one has tried to build an instant supercomputer in one place.

    "It struck me as being something of a 60's idea," said Dennis Allison, a founder of Dr. Dobbs, a Silicon Valley magazine for computer programmers. "This could easily be an idea from one of William Gibson's science-fiction novels, where everyone gathers in Grand Central station to save the world by plugging their machines into the Net."

    Before stumbling onto the idea of the volunteer project, the class considered a variety of ways to make a cheap supercomputer, including buying many Microsoft Xbox game machines. However, the students would have needed to install the free Linux operating system on the machines to tie them together, and Microsoft has recently made that more difficult.

    John Witchel, the graduate student who had the original idea of building a volunteer supercomputer, says he thinks flash mob computing will make it possible for high school students and community groups to harness computer power now available only to large corporations or government laboratories.

    "We're trying to democratize supercomputing," Mr. Witchel said.

    The group has high hopes for its gym machine. It plans to run a speed benchmark program known as Linpack. The group estimates that to make the next Top 500 list, scheduled to be released in June, the machine will need to reach a speed of about 550 gigaflops, or billions of mathematical operations per second. The No. 1 spot on the list is held by the Earth Simulator in Japan, which can run at more than 35 teraflops, or 35,000 gigaflops.

    Jack Dongarra, a University of Tennessee computer scientist who helps maintain the Top 500 list, says the students have a shot at making the list, but it will not be easy.

    "It could be that electrical power will be an issue," he said, adding that the slowest computer will limit the speed of the entire supercomputer. To make certain that they have enough speed, the students are asking that volunteers bring only computers with at least a 1.3-gigahertz Pentium or AMD processor and 256 megabytes of memory, requirements that most recent home machines will meet. Laptops are preferred because they use less power than desktop computers.

    When all the machines are plugged together via donated high-speed networking switches, the students will be able to tack
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:27AM (#8360754)
    Link [nytimes.com]
  • Reg. Free Link (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:29AM (#8360761)
    Same article, different place, thank you Google.

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/161702_fl as hmob23.html

    I'd make it clickable but the submission mechanism is being funky right now...

    - Neil Wehneman
  • GO USF/DONS (Score:5, Informative)

    by Zero_K (606548) on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:35AM (#8360774)
    As a USF Student, I will be there with my laptop...All I have to say is GO DONS... The computer science department already has a cluster called the "keck cluster". Basically 64 nodes of dual P3 at 1GHz, with 1 Gig ECC Ram. There is talk about throwing the keck cluster into the flash mob cluster, but the biggest hurdle is appearntly laying the lines. Harney Science center is about 200 hundred yards from the gym where this is going to happen. And just FYI, they wanted it to be done on the 1st of april, but that didn't work out for some reason.
  • Whats the CD for? (Score:5, Informative)

    by eadz (412417) on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:37AM (#8360779) Homepage
    Cluster Knoppix of course!
  • by kb (43460) on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:41AM (#8360791) Homepage Journal
    Maybe somebody should point out that is not the first time somebody has done such a thing... back in 1998 there was a quite similar event at the University of Paderborn where 512 normal home PCs brought by people were connected for one night (the event was even broadcasted live on German TV). I have to admit that the "flash mob" element here is more predominant (back then people knew about this two weeks in advance), but it's definitely not the first attempt to create a spontaneous supercomputer with home machines. The cluster even made it into the Top250 IIRC. :)

    More info... [heise.de]
  • by thehosh (755582) on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:47AM (#8360807) Homepage
    guys from the CLOWN '98 [http://www.tlachmann.de/linux-cluster/] already tried this (even it was not the main goal). it was a temporary cluster for only one night, but to get into top500 you have to build a durable cluster.
  • by GrodinTierce (571882) on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:47AM (#8360808) Journal
    What's amusing is that people are encouraged to bring laptops, and are then expected to play games that way...
    Maybe you're trolling, but laptops can be perfectly serviceable game machines. They may not be able to match an absolute top-of-the-line desktop, but with DDR3200, 7200 RPM HD's, and 128MB graphics cards, they can be pretty competitive.

    On a related note, I've never seen anyone on /. mention iBuyPower [ibuypower.com]. Their prices are $1000 less than Alienware, and probably a few hundred less than a Sager or Clevo. They really are in a (price) class of their own.

    Check out one of their laptops [ibuypower.com] compared to an equivalent Alienware [alienware.com].

  • by DrMrLordX (559371) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:21AM (#8360904)
    2fer usually means "two for one". At least, that's how I interpret it.

    as in, two birds with one stone, etc.
  • by unixbob (523657) on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:34AM (#8360936)
    Dell have been shipping their poweredge servers with gigabit ethernet as standard for nearly 18 months now
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 23, 2004 @05:42AM (#8360953)
    Key difference between cluster computing and grid computing: connection between the nodes. Grid computing works best with relatively low amounts of data on which much individual computation has to be performed. Clusters can handle bigger data and more interrelated computation.
  • by thesupraman (179040) on Monday February 23, 2004 @06:25AM (#8361032)
    Exactly, speaking as someone who has run CFD code on smallish clusters, 100MB ethernet falls flat on it's face at about 20 machines, and those were dual 500MHz machines - it will be worse with faster ones! (to preempt some silly comments, CFD code and linpack have a LOT in common)

    And that was using specially tuned low latency ethernet drivers and TCP stack under linux.
    These guys have very very little chance of doing anything useful at all - which is a bit of a pity, but perhaps if they did just a little research first..

    I wonder if they even have network switches that will efficiently route 1200 nodes.. let alone a decent plan to interconnect them.

    The first step would be to use 1Gbit or faster concentration to some very smart switches to at least cut down the network blockage a little.. It won't help with the terrible latency, but will give them a little headroom at some vector lengths.

    They will also suffer terribly from the differing speeds of nodes - I've yet to see a solution for linpack that distributes efficiently over a wide speed range of machines.

    Of course, I bet in the end they just come up with a great SETI score, or something similar - something that would actually scale at all on a cluster like this.

    Oh well, I wish them luck anyway.
  • by ldspartan (14035) on Monday February 23, 2004 @07:13AM (#8361143) Homepage
    New Thinkpads (at least my T40) also are shipping GigE. I'm fortunate to have both a poweredge at my desk and a T40 to wander about with... if only I could do something with those GigE interfaces other than enjoy their very fun autodetection (no crossover cables, ever!)

    --
    lds
  • Re:What, no macs? (Score:2, Informative)

    by the3mcsand1dj (755599) on Monday February 23, 2004 @07:25AM (#8361177) Homepage
    apparently I had no idea what I was talking about... it appears that they are booting from a linux cd that will be provided... so to answer your question... macs would probably work providing they are new enough to run linux...
  • by Seahawk (70898) <{kd.egami} {ta} {stt}> on Monday February 23, 2004 @07:42AM (#8361234)
    Hehe - this made me laugh a bit! ;D

    a 30x40m soccer field? :)

    But hey - since you called it soccer, I suppose you are US, so you are excused.

    And for info - a standard soccerfield is between 90 and 120m long and 45 and 90m wide for national danish soccer matches.

    For international mathces, the dimensions are: 100-110 x 64-75m :)

    Or that would be a little longer than a football field, and quite a bit wider(I believe a football field is 53 yards wide)
  • Re:What, no macs? (Score:4, Informative)

    by yess (678141) on Monday February 23, 2004 @08:26AM (#8361428)
    Well. The Knoppix linux distro, which is to be used, is prepared for x86 architecture. Sorry, guys. Maybe it's time to start thinking about porting this distro to Mac CPUs? It shouldn't be that hard...
  • by Dark Lord Seth (584963) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:27AM (#8361758) Journal

    yes and no.

    Flash Mobs DO exist these days, but generally aren't disaster tourists. Yet, anyways. Modern Flash Mobs consist of large numbers of peoples gathering somewhere, doing something silly for about 5 minutes and then leaving again, just as quick. An example I heard of some time ago was at a Toys R Us store ages ago with a huge mock-up dinosaur. A Flash Mob gathered before the dinosaur and worshipped it for 5 minutes. And I'm not talking about quiet, solemn worship, here. After 5 minutes the crowd was gone as quickly as it has arrived.

    Just found a link [satanslaundromat.com] to a site regarding the particular Flash Mob. Includes some pictures for your viewing pleasure. :)

  • by Daniel Boisvert (143499) on Monday February 23, 2004 @09:43AM (#8361889)
    Now, let's generously assume that each laptop is drawing half an amp at 110 volts. At 1200 laptops, that's 600 amps. The circuit breakers in my house trip at 15 amps, but I'll generously assume this facility has 50 amp wall circuits. That would still require 12 entire circuits, plus a safety factor, nevermind all my generous back-of-envelope assumptions.

    600 amps is nothing for a place like this. I can get an 800 amp feed to my house, according to the nice folks at my local power company (and I'll be upgrading to that as part of my rewiring plan). 12 circuits is no big deal either. Think of the power requirements for holding concerts or any type of show, or just for lighting the place.

    A place like that also probably has a house electrician on staff who knows the boards and how to get x amps from point A to point B. I doubt power is going to be the main issue holding them back on this.

    Dan
  • Re:Dorm Clusters (Score:3, Informative)

    by FSWKU (551325) on Monday February 23, 2004 @11:37AM (#8362852)
    If only that could assure a decent connection. Where I'm at, the connection isn't even worth being a freebie. It's slower than dialup in a lot of cases, and completely unreliable (it went down at least 10 times just this past weekend). Then there's the fact that the support office is a complete joke. A friend of mine took their computer over there because the network adapter was being a pain in the ass. They didn't know what to do with it. The sad thing is, it's an adapter my friend bought at the campus bookstore. Why, then, do they not know how to fix something they presumeably told the bookstore to stock?

    Add to this horrific mix of hardware and wetware problems the fact that not one single person in the help office speaks easily intelligible English, then you have one hell of a mess on your hands. I'm not against people from other countries, but damnit if you want to work in tech support for a college where 99% of the students are born on this side of the pond, shouldn't you be able to at least speak English well enough to be easily understood?

    And just so I'm not modded COMPLETELY off-topic here, what the fsck is up with this "flash mob supercomputer" crap anyway? Normal flash mobs were retarded enough to begin with, and I could have sworn that annoying little fad was over with. This is just completely insane. The idea behind the supercomputer thing is a novel one, but for the love of all that's holy, give it another name. Attaching "flash mob" to anything automatically earns it the stigma of being something cooked up by complete nutcases just trying to get in the news for their attempt at the "next big/cool/outlandish thing".
  • by ca1v1n (135902) <snook@guanotr[ ]c.com ['oni' in gap]> on Monday February 23, 2004 @04:01PM (#8366039)
    The 300W is more than just the CPU. There's a lot of other stuff that draws power in a computer, like the power supply, the memory, the disk, etc. The nice thing about underclocking is that power draw is proportional to the cube of the clock frequency (this becomes more of a quadratic relationship as you get away from the peak performance of the chip), so you get huge power savings from modest underclocking. You also get a better cpu/memory clock ratio, so the pain is still less.

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