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MOLECULAR MODELING Research group at the Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad

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Beowulf cluster

The shortest definition of Beowulf cluster could be the following:

It is the cheapest and the most accessible serious hardware tool for computational physicists and chemists. Beowulf cluster denotes a computer cluster of standard desktop (or even laptop) computers which are networked into local area network (LAN) with freely available software installed and shared among them. The phrase “system built using commodity hardware” is often used. The main task of Beowulf cluster is to speed up the computation processes through parallel computing.

The most important thing about the Beowulf concept is that it can enable research group with very limited funding to obtain computational resources needed for scientific computing. Benefits of a Beowulf cluster are numerous:

Since Beowulf cluster consists of standard commercially available desktops frequent question arises: “Hey, can I used my old desktops/laptops, connect them into a network and perform scientific computing?” Well, that is the point of Beowulf clusters. Yes, it is possible to create a Beowulf cluster with several crap computers and cheap ethernet. Such cluster will not have high-end performances, but still it is going to perform better than a single computer. High Performance work stations and clusters are expensive and unavailable to most of researchers all around the world. So, people simply use standard (often their old) computers, connect them into a network, run a Unix-like operating system and the research can start. One thing is also needed – parallel processing libraries. For these purposes usually Message Passing Interface (MPI) and Parallel Virtual Machine (PVM) are used.

Each computer in a Beowulf cluster is called “node” and the main computer is called “master node” or “server” – it controls the whole cluster. Of course, it is preferable for Beowulf cluster to consist of identical computers.

The creators of the first Beowulf cluster are Don Becker and Thomas Sterling. In 1994. they worked for NASA when they connected 16 Intel DX4 processors by 10 Mbit/sec ethernet. Shortly after the first Beowulf cluster, in 1996 NASA and DOE built clusters with over gigaflop/s performance, costing less than 50 000 $. Today, Beowulf cluster suitable for scientific computing and molecular modeling can be assembled for under 3000$.

Nice demonstration how Beowulf cluster can speed up the computation process can be found HERE. Bellow you can find links that are used for writing of this short text.

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