beowulf in space

Robert G. Brown rgb at
Wed Apr 16 19:08:21 EDT 2003

On Wed, 16 Apr 2003, Jim Lux wrote:

> Interestingly, they needn't cost $100K... There are several firms that sell 
> (flight qualified) processor cards with interfaces for less. This would 
> generally be in a 6U form factor, conduction cooled, with some degree of 
> radiation tolerance, and with "flight quality" parts.

I stand corrected.  Perhaps general aviation and military creates a
market large enough to be considered COTS in its own, somewhat elevated

Cool.  Seems useful to know.  Perhaps I'll have to write a chapter on
"Beowulfs in Space", or "Beowulfs in Super Secret Weapons Systems"
(kidding!) in my online book.

> You can, for about $30-40K, buy a nifty hybrid package about 2.5x3.5 inches 
> with a 21020DSP, a bunch of RAM, various and sundry peripheral glue logic 
> (timers, serial ports, etc.) and 3 high speed IEEE-1355 serial ports.
> There's also a SPARC version in the same package.
> Sandia is developing a rad hard Pentium, for those preferring a x86 
> processor. There's also a rad hard/tolerant PowerPC (133 MHz, I think) 
> available from BAE.  I'm pretty sure there's a '386 or '486 available as well.
> One of the appeals of a Beowulf kind of concept is the idea of using a 
> bunch of commodity processors ganged together to get more processing 
> resources. For space, the difference is that commodity means something a 
> bit different.  However, anytime you can spread the NRE cost across a 
> system composed of a bunch of identical parts, it's a good thing. This is 
> because you're always buying spares, redundant strings, engineering models, 
> etc., and those can help to spread the development cost, so the "flight 
> article" cost is less.
> There's also a non-negligble cost of having more items on the "bill of 
> materials": each different kind of part needs drawings, documentation, test 
> procedures, etc., a lot of which is what makes space stuff so expensive 
> compared to the commercial parts (for which the primary cost driver is that 
> of sand (raw materials) and marketing) so again, systems comprised of many 
> identical parts have advantages.

Hmmm, so the primary cost determinant of VLSIC's is the cost of sand...?

Verrry Eeenteresting...

Now marketing, that I'd believe;-)


Robert G. Brown	             
Duke University Dept. of Physics, Box 90305
Durham, N.C. 27708-0305
Phone: 1-919-660-2567  Fax: 919-660-2525     email:rgb at

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