Cluster computing is a popular choice for heavy duty computing applications. At the base level, there are hobby clusters often built with Raspberry Pis, while the industrial level involves data centers crammed with servers running at full tilt. [greg] wanted something cheap, but with x86 support – so set about building a rig his own way.
The ingenious part of [greg]’s build comes in the source computers. He identified that replacement laptop motherboards were a great source of computing power on the cheap, with a board packing an i7 CPU with 16GB of RAM available from eBay for around £100, and with i5 models being even cheaper. With four laptop motherboards on hand, he set about stacking them in a case, powering them, and hooking them up with the bare minimum required to get them working. With everything wrapped up in an old server case with some 3D printed parts to hold it all together, he was able to get a 4-node Kubernetes cluster up and running for an absolute bargain price.
We haven’t seen spare laptop motherboards used in such a way before, but we could definitely see this becoming more of a thing going forward. The possibilities of a crate full of deprecated motherboards are enticing for those building clusters on the cheap. Of course, more nodes is more better, so check out this 120 Pi cluster to satiate your thirst for raw FLOPs.
On older vehicles, if you noticed that the lights had gone out behind one of your gauges, you knew it was time to snake your hand back there and replace the little incandescent bulb that had given up the ghost. But what are you supposed to do if you’re seeing the same problem on a modern vehicle that’s already made the leap to LED dash lighting? That’s what [Tysonpower] recently had to find out when the fuel indicator on his Alfa Romeo Giuletta QV went dark.
In the video after the break, [Tysonpower] details how to remove the instrument cluster from the Giuletta’s dash, which we imagine would be a useful little tutorial for anyone who owns the same vehicle. Once he has it out on the bench, he strips it down to the bare PCB and starts (literally) poking around.
He eventually noticed that if he pushed on the board near the fuel indicator he could get the appropriate 3528 SMD LED to light up, but touching up the solder joints didn’t seem to fix the issue. Assuming the LED must be defective internally, he simply replaced it and all was good again.
Well, not exactly. The light produced by the new part didn’t match the color or brightness of the other dozen or so white LEDs that were installed on the board, so [Tysonpower] decided to just dive in and replace them all. While it obviously took a lot more time and effort, he says the end result is that the instrument cluster looks noticeably brighter and crisper when driving at night. Not bad for an afternoon’s work and a couple bucks worth of LEDs.
Parallel computing is a fair complex subject, and something many of us only have limited hands-on experience with. But breaking up tasks into smaller chunks and shuffling them around between different processors, or even entirely different computers, is arguably the future of software development. Looking to get ahead of the game, many people put together their own affordable home clusters to help them learn the ropes.
As part of his work with decentralized cryptocurrency, [Jay Doscher] recently found himself in need of a small research cluster. He determined that the Raspberry Pi 4 would give him the best bang for his buck, so he started work on a small self-contained cluster that could handle four of the single board computers. As we’ve come to expect given his existing body of work, the final result is compact, elegant, and well documented for anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps.
Outwardly the cluster looks quite a bit like the Mil-Plastic that he developed a few months back, complete with the same ten inch Pimoroni IPS LCD. But the internal design of the 3D printed case has been adjusted to fit four Pis with a unique staggered mounting arrangement that makes a unit considerably more compact than others we’ve seen in the past. In fact, even if you didn’t want to build the whole Cluster Deck as [Jay] calls it, just printing out the “core” itself would be a great way to put together a tidy Pi cluster for your own experimentation.
Thanks to the Power over Ethernet HAT, [Jay] only needed to run a short Ethernet cable between each Pi and the TP-Link five port switch. This largely eliminates the tangle of wires we usually associate with these little Pi clusters, which not only looks a lot cleaner, but makes it easier for the dual Noctua 80 mm to get cool air circulated inside the enclosure. Ultimately, the final product doesn’t really look like a cluster of Raspberry Pis at all. But then, we imagine that was sort of the point.
The first thing to set up, after the hardware and OS, is the network configuration. Each Pi needs a static IP in order to communicate properly. In this case, [Dino] makes extensive use of SSH. From there, he gets to work installing Prometheus and Grafana to use as monitoring software which can track system resources and operating temperature. After that, the final step is to install Ansible which is monitoring software specifically meant for clusters, which allows all of the computers to be administered more as a unit than as four separate devices.
This was only part 1 of [Dino]’s dive into cluster computing, and we hope there’s more to come. There’s a lot to do with a computer cluster, and once you learn the ropes with a Raspberry Pi setup like this it will be a lot easier to move on to a more powerful (and expensive) setup that can power through some serious work.
Many readers will have had their first taste of experimentation with cluster computing through the medium of the Raspberry Pi. The diminutive Linux capable boards can easily be hooked up as a group via a network hub, and given the right software become a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. None of us will however have reached the heights of the Raspberry Pi cluster shown by Oracle at their Oracle OpenWorld conference, a mighty rack packing a cluster of no less than 1060 Pi 3 B+ boards. This machine is touted as a supercomputer and it’s worthy of the name, though perhaps it’s not in the same class as the elite in that field.
Getting that number of individual 3Bs into a human-sized rack is no easy feat, and they have gone for custom 3D-printed racks to hold the boards. PoE would have resulted in too much heat dissipation, so instead they use USB power from an array of large multi-way USB power supplies. A set of switches provide the networking, and a conventional server sits in the middle to provide storage and network booting.
It’s certainly a cool way to wow the crowds at a conference, but we’re unsure whether it delivers the best bang for your supercomputing buck or whether it’s more useful as a large room heater. Meanwhile you can take a look at a few more modest Pi clusters, with unusual operating systems, or slightly more adherence to convention.
We see a lot of weird and esoteric stuff here at Hackaday, but even by our standards, Bell Lab’s Plan 9 operating system is an oddball. Named after the science fiction film Plan 9 from Outer Space, it was designed to extend the UNIX “everything is a file” mentality to the network. It envisioned a future where utilizing the resources of another computer would be as easy as copying a file. But as desktop computers got more powerful the idea seemed less appealing, and ultimately traditional operating systems won out. Of course, that doesn’t mean you still can’t play around with it.
Logically to make use of a distributed operating system you really need something to distribute it on, but as [Andrew Back] shows, today that’s not nearly the challenge it would have been back then. Using the Raspberry Pi, he builds a four-node Plan 9 cluster that’s not only an excellent way to explore this experimental operating system, but looks cool sitting on your desk. Even if you’re not interested in drinking the Bell Lab’s Kool-Aid circa 1992, his slick desktop cluster design would work just as well for getting your feet wet with modern-day distributed software stacks.
The enclosure for the cluster is built from laser cut acrylic panels which are then folded into shape with a hot wire bending machine. That might seem like a tall order for the home hacker, but we’ve covered DIY acrylic benders in the past, and the process is surprisingly simple. Granted you’ll still need to get access to a beefy laser cutter, but that’s not too hard anymore if you’ve got a hackerspace nearby.
[Andrew] uses short extension cables and female panel mount connectors to keep everything tidy, and with the addition of some internal LED lighting the final product really does look like a desktop computer from a far more fashionable future. Combined with the minimalist keyboard, the whole setup wouldn’t look out of place on the set of a science fiction movie. Perhaps that’s fitting, giving Bell Lab’s futuristic goals for Plan 9.
It’s that time of year again, with the holidays fast approaching friends and family will be hounding you about what trinkets and shiny baubles they can pretend to surprise you with. Unfortunately there’s no person harder to shop for than the maker or hacker: if we want it, we’ve probably already built the thing. Or at least gotten it out of somebody else’s trash.
But if they absolutely, positively, simply have to buy you something that’s commercially made, then you could do worse than pointing them to this very slick Raspberry Pi cluster backplane from [miniNodes]. With the ability to support up to five of the often overlooked Pi Compute Modules, this little device will let you bring a punchy little ARM cluster online without having to build something from scratch.
The Compute Module is perfectly suited for clustering applications like this due to its much smaller size compared to the full-size Raspberry Pi, but we don’t see it get used that often because it needs to be jacked into an appropriate SODIMM connector. This makes it effectively useless for prototyping and quickly thrown together hacks (I.E. everything most people use the Pi for), and really only suitable for finished products and industrial applications. It’s really the line in the sand between playing around with the Pi and putting it to real work.
[miniNodes] calls their handy little device the Carrier Board, and beyond the obvious five SODIMM slots for the Pis to live in, there’s also an integrated gigabit switch with an uplink port to get them all connected to the network. The board powers all of the nodes through a single barrel connector on the side opposite the Ethernet jack, leaving behind the masses of spider’s web of USB cables we usually see with Pi clusters.
The board doesn’t come cheap at $259 USD, plus the five Pi Compute Modules which will set you back another $150. But for the ticket price you’ll have a 20 core ARM cluster with 5 GB of RAM and 20 GB of flash storage in a 200 x 100 millimeter (8 x 4 inch) footprint, with an energy consumption of under 20 watts when running at wide open throttle. This could be an excellent choice for mobile applications, or if you just want to experiment with parallel processing on a desktop-sized device.