Adapteva's $99 Supercomputer Is Closer to Fruition
In case you missed it, in October of last year, Adapteva wrapped up a successful Kickstarter campaign to build a Raspberry Pi-inspired $99 Linux supercomputer. The campaign was successful in raising $898,921 for the first versoin of the Parallella computer, a supercomputer equipped with a dual-core ARM A9 processor and a 16- or 64-core Adapteva floating-point accelerator. Quite a few people have questioned this idea, but it's actually quite interesting and could usher in the era of grassroots supercomputing. Adapteva's CEO Andreas Olofsson has recently been shedding more light on the project.
People have been doing lots of tinkering with the Raspberry PI devices, and last year, news came from the University of Southampton that Professor Simon Cox and his team of researchers had lashed together an actual supercomputer made of 64 credit card-sized Raspberry Pis using Lego pieces as the glue for the cluster (see the photo above).
At the time, Professor Cox said: “As soon as we were able to source sufficient Raspberry Pi computers we wanted to see if it was possible to link them together into a supercomputer. We installed and built all of the necessary software on the Pi starting from a standard Debian Wheezy system image and we have published a guide so you can build your own supercomputer.” You can get the guide to making your own Raspberry Pi supercomputer here, and find more information on Cox's version here.
As for the Adapteva $99 supercomputer, there is sufficient funding to carry the idea forward. Adapteva's CEO Andreas Olofsson was recently featured in a Linux Foundation blog post, where he said:
"Historically serial processing improved so quickly that in most applications there was no need for massively parallel processing. Unfortunately, serial processing performance has now hit a brick wall and the only practical path to scaling performance in the future is through parallel processing. To make parallel software applications ubiquitous, we will need to make parallel hardware accessible to all programmers, create much more productive parallel programming methods, and convert all serial programmers to parallel programmers. These are major challenges, but certainly not insurmountable."
"The Parallella is an open $99 credit card sized parallel computer. The goal of the project is to "make parallel computing accessible to everyone" so that we can speed up the adoption of parallel processing in the industry. We shipped Parallella prototype systems and open source SDKs in January and are now in the process of building up the first batch of final form factor boards."
Just as closet-size computers eventually got downsized to pocket-sized ones, it's inevitable that supercomputers will come in compact form factors and be built from affordable parts. In fact, some global researchers have built supercomputers simply by lashing together off-the-shelf hardware gaming accelerators.
Supercomputers are in demand for many narrowcasted tasks such as modeling new drugs. A simply built but powerful one can be assigned a task and perform it well without the need for a garage-sized computing platform. The Adapteva Parallella is going to be interesting to watch.
Photo Credit: University of Southampton and Professor Simon Cox