Supercomputers are typically huge and expensive, and they take an awful lot of power to run. Looking for a cheaper way allow developers to build and test high performance computer system software, the Los Alamos National Laboratory turned to the ubiquitous Raspberry Pi and Australia's BitScope.

The Los Alamos National Laboratory is already home to one of the top 10 supercomputers in the world, the Trinity, but the lab needed a relatively inexpensive and scalable way to accommodate developers and researchers who couldn't get access to large systems for research and development in system software.

"The Raspberry Pi modules let developers figure out how to write this software and get it to work reliably without having a dedicated testbed of the same size, which would cost a quarter billion dollars and use 25 megawatts of electricity," said LANL's Gary Glider.

The BitScope solution was designed and built in under 3 months and features 750 nodes made up of five BitScope rack mount modules. Each Pi rocks a 64-bit, 1.2 GHz quad-core ARM processor, and the 150 mini computers in each of the modules combine to offer up to 3,000 available cores as a parallel testbed for developers and researchers to design and test system software before launching it on larger systems like Trinity.

The setup estimated to cost less than US$150 per node and runs at under 5 W per node. As well as system software development, the cluster could also find use in sensor network simulations, high performance networking research and the internet of things.

The BitScope Cluster Modules are expected to go on sale early next year.

Sources: BitScope, Los Alamos National Laboratory

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