Build your own supercomputer

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Computational engineers at the UK's University of Southampton - along with a six-year-old boy - have built a supercomputer from 64 Raspberry Pi computers and Lego.

Like many universities these days, one assumes, Southampton's a bit strapped for cash. While it already has a supercomputer, named Iridis, there's probably quite some competition for time on the machine.

"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," says Professor Simon Cox.

"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."

The racking was built using Lego with a design developed by Cox and his six-year-old son James - who has also been testing the Raspberry Pi by programming it using free computer programming software packages Python and Scratch over the summer.

They've named their machine "Iridis-Pi, after the university's existing supercomputer. It runs off a single 13 Amp mains socket and uses MPI (Message Passing Interface) to communicate between nodes using Ethernet.
 The whole system cost under £2,500 (excluding switches), and has a total of 64 processors and 1TB of memory, consisting of 16GB SD cards for each Raspberry Pi.

Professor Cox uses the free plug-in 'Python Tools for Visual Studio' to develop code for the Raspberry Pi.

"The first test we ran - well obviously we calculated Pi on the Raspberry Pi using MPI, which is a well-known first test for any new supercomputer," he says.

"The team wants to see this low-cost system as a starting point to inspire and enable students to apply high-performance computing and data handling to tackle complex engineering and scientific challenges as part of our on-going outreach activities."

The build-your-own guide is here.