The Raspberry Pi Cluster from Outer Space

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.

Its been the better part of a decade since we first brought you word that Plan 9 was available for the Raspberry Pi, and yet in all that time we’ve never really seen it put to use. Hopefully builds like this will inspire others to play around with this fascinating piece of computing history.

[Thanks to Dave for the tip.]

Plan 9 on the Raspberry Pi

Yet another operating system has been ported to the Raspberry Pi. No, it’s not Haiku, sadly, but it is something just as weird and interesting. This time it’s Plan 9 from Bell Labs, an 80’s era OS from the same company that brought you C and Unix.

As a research operating system, Plan 9 has a bunch of really weird, but useful features. For one, everything about a computer running Plan 9 is distributed; the memory can be running on one machine, the processor on another, and the display can run on yet another machine. This modularity gives Plan 9 the honorable title of, ‘more Unix than Unix’.

Another great feature, although somewhat of a historical note, is that Plan 9’s graphics capabilities are written into the kernel, unlike Linux and X where the display manager is floating around in user space.

It’s an interesting system, and if you’ve got enough Raspis to build your own supercomputer you might want to install Plan 9 on a few of your nodes, just to see what the future computer of ages past looked like.