April 25, 2019

Your Friendly Neighborhood Supercomputer

8,000 PCs and Nothing to Do...

  • December 19, 2002
  • By Brian Proffitt

The best financial advice that can be offered in any ecomonic climate is this: make your money work for you instead of you working for your money. Of course, making that work in real life is always a significant challenge. Using all the resources you possess can indeed be tricky--especially if you are not totally aware of the resources available to you.

Gateway Computers had an interesting problem with their resources. Sitting around their 272 retail stores were nearly 8,000 demonstration PCs, all running Windows something-or-other, churning away screensavers until a potential customer came along and test-drove the machine. But, in between all of those little point-and-click sessions, these machines were essentially doing nothing.

Having 8,000 computers sitting around doing nothing is a lot of overhead, both fiscally and computationally. All of these machines are top-of-the line (all the better for demos) and networked together into a company-wide WAN. But other than putting out heat, what could be done with these idle PCs?

The answer was both simple in concept and form: use the idling processors of these machines to form a massive grid computational system that could be put to work solving highly complex problems on a per-job basis.

So, hiding amidst the slick displays of your neighborhood Gateway store is a grid computer that can offer up to 14 teraFLOPS of processing power, all ready to serve the needs of Gateway's clients.

While on the surface this seems like a non-Linux story, it should be cleared up right away that Linux has a lot more to do with this than you might think. The server tying all of this processing power together is the United Devices MetaProcessor, which runs solely on Red Hat Linux.

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