Building up a “supercomputer”
The official title of my project is “Parallel Computing Demonstrations on Wee ARCHIE”.
One would therefore probably expect me to be spending most of my time playing around withWee Archie. For those who don’t know yet, Wee Archie is a small portable suitcase-sized supercomputer that is built out of 18 Raspberry Pi. EPCC uses it to illustrate how supercomputers work to a general audience. It has become so popular that it is quite hard to get to working with it now. Therefore, to be able to develop new applications for Wee Archie, my initial task was actually to build a smaller version of Wee Archie on my own.
What is needed
On the very first day at the EPCC, my co-mentor Oliver gave me a box full of stuff and told me that everything I need to build a Raspberry Pi cluster is in there. Also, he said that a ten year old kid can do it so it should not be a problem for me. This is what was in the box:
- set of 5 Raspberry Pi B+ (quad core) with power cables
- 5 lego-compatible Raspberry Pi cases
- ethernet switch
- 6 ethernet cables
- 5 micro sd cards with adapters
- HDMI cables (useless if you dont have a monitor to connect to)
Building the cluster
To be honest, Oliver was right. Physically building up the „cluster“ is really easy, provided you read the instructions carefully step by step. Not doing so might have some unpleasant consequences. My beloved friend James summed up my experience nicely into a meme:
A take-home message? Raspberry Pi has no build in memory and trying to “ssh” to it without plugging in an SD card with an operating system will highly likely not be successful, no matter how hard you try.
The network setup however, was a bit more challenging of a task, especially when using Ubuntu and the very first instruction part for Linux only said: TODO. Luckily, Raspberry Pi seem to be so popular, that Stack Overflow and other geek forums have answers to literally any problem one can have with them. Otherwise, the instructions were quite clear and now I believe that a smart ten years old kid could do it on their own within a couple of hours. For pure mathematicians like me, it might take a bit longer, but two days later I finally had a working “supercomputer” connected to my laptop.
Once all the setup is done, running programs on a Raspberry Pi based cluster is no different from doing it on a standard cluster. Except, maybe, the fact that running a parallel program on all 20 cores of this small “supercomputer” is still slower than running the same program sequentially on a standard laptop. The performance is however not what we are looking for with such a cluster. It’s the fun one can have playing around with this cute device, such as running the parallel “windtunnel simulation” that EPCC developed and now uses for outreach purposes: