Economics of clusters was Re: top500 list (was: opteron VS Itanium 2)

Jeff Layton jeffrey.b.layton at
Tue Nov 18 06:01:12 EST 2003

Robert G. Brown wrote:

> It's really a matter of mindset.  I've seen or heard of lots of very
> very expensive computers designed and assembled to accomplish some
> "really important" computation "really fast" that have been funded by
> all sorts of deep pocketed government agencies.  In some of those cases,
> building the computer was so difficult that it didn't even get finished
> before Moore's Law overtook it at 1/10th the cost using commodity
> hardware (anything that takes years to build is at real risk of this).
> Worse, a lot of the research funded this way isn't really burning issue
> stuff in that the outcome won't change people's lives.  Worth doing,
> sure, but not worth spending millions on to get a year or two earlier.
> Moore's Law just trundles right along, and now we're spending huge
> amounts to reach for teraflops, where a decade ago we were spending huge
> amounts to reach for gigaflops and a decade before THAT a megaflop was
> awesomely expensive.
> Well hell, I do gigaflops at home these days, for a few thousand dollars
> total.  In ten more years, Inshallah, I'll be doing teraflops on my
> desktop and my personal digital assistant in my shirt pocket will be
> doing gigaflops:-).  It really is a matter of waiting or not waiting to
> accomplish particular tasks.  The REALLY big iron guys (or REALLY big
> cluster guys:-) hate to hear that -- they make a living from their
> really big supercomputers that live out on the bleeding edge.  So I'm
> not surprised to hear that four out of four reject a scalable approach
> in favor of the big project model.  The big science guys hate it too.


   I think it's about time you posted a quick review of the little
scenario you came up with regarding having a pot of money
and a project to finish in a certain amount of time. It's the
one where you showed that it's better (more cost effective)
to wait until the project is almost due, buy the fastest cluster
you need, and run the code, rather than buy the fastest machine
at the beginning of the project and compute the rest of the time.
This analysis was beautiful and very insightful. I think alot
of people would benefit from reading it.


Dr. Jeff Layton
Aerodynamics and CFD
Lockheed-Martin Aeronautical Company - Marietta

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