Great HPC bake-off: novel recipe for ‘supercomputer’ uses 750 Raspberry Pi boards

The humble Raspberry Pi has been put to many uses by hobbyists over the years since it was launched, but the latest use for the board is certainly very novel: bundling loads of the things together to make a cheap supercomputer (of sorts).

As Anandtech reports, the High Performance Computing (HPC) division over at the Los Alamos National Laboratory has lumped 750 Raspberry Pi boards together, in a system designed (and built) by BitScope that consists of five rack-mounted Pi Cluster Modules, each of which have 150 boards apiece.

That means 750 processors with a total of 3,000 cores, which the National Laboratory notes makes for a very effective HPC testbed for software developers and researchers who can’t afford to pay for time on a real supercomputer.

In other words, this isn’t a ‘true’ supercomputer, but an inexpensive development testbed of a similar scale, or as the makers put it, a “highly parallelized platform for test and validation of scalable systems software technologies”.

Petascale problems

Gary Grider, leader of the HPC division at Los Alamos National Laboratory, commented: “It’s not like you can keep a petascale machine around for R&D work in scalable systems software. The Raspberry Pi modules let developers figure out how to write this software and get it to work reliably without having a dedicated testbed of the same size, which would cost a quarter billion dollars and use 25 megawatts of electricity.”

Nifty, eh? So it seems that the Raspberry Pi isn’t just about low-cost hobbyist computing, but low-cost supercomputing – or at least facilitating the development and testing of software for the latter.