OutsideHPC Volume 1: Undergrads at Fordham

outsidehpcThe inaugural issue of OutsideHPC features the work of a group of undergraduate students at Fordham University in New York City. Undergraduates you say!? The Association for Computing Machinery [ACM] undergraduate chapter has taken on the task of constructing a small Beowulf cluster.

After one of the students came across the Microwulf project at Calvin College, news traveled fast and soon thereafter, the group decided to take on a project of their own. The group met for several weeks on Saturdays to the tune of pizza and whiteboards. After much discussion, they decided not only to construct a a small Beowulf cluster, but they decided on an application: finding the most correct sequential digits of Pi using the Leibniz series.

Been done before? Of course. Not terribly computationally intensive? True. So why is this OutsideHPC? These are undergraduate students taking the initiative to learn a new and potentially valuable scientific tool outside the classroom. Ok, so why Pi?

We chose this problem for several reasons; The problem is easy to parallelize, strongly suited for the students’ range of experience, and, most importantly, interesting to the students”, said Cameron McInally, faculty advisor to the group.

Deemed the Pangloss Project, the students decided to use the Leibniz method for calculating the digits. The cluster was assembled on the cheap, the total cost coming in at less than $700 [my kind of cluster!].

We have not taken any funding from the University. The project is meant more for entertainment/hobbyist purposes, than it is for scientific research. My goal in running the project is to show the students that they are capable of working with applied computing, even if it is on a small scale. I hope that the project is a nice complement to the theory the students learn in class”, said McInally.

Interestingly enough, the group ran into very similar problems as large cluster installations. Namely, cooling. In a dense, non-optimal environment such as a micro-beowulf, one certainly needs to take proper cooling into account.

As you can see, these undergraduate students are truly learning valuable lessons outside general high performance/technical computing theory and parallel software architecture. I tip my hat to the undergraduate ACM chapter at Fordham for their efforts in striving to learn outside the classroom.

OutsideHPC is a weekly series featuring the work of individuals and/or organizations striving to break the bounds of traditional high performance/technical computing. Do you have an interesting or unusual HPC workload? If so, we want to hear from you! Send us an email at john <dot> leidel <at> gmail <dot> com, and be sure to include OutsideHPC in the subject line.

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