COTS was Re: [Beowulf] 96 Processors Under Your Desktop

Jim Lux jimlux at
Wed Sep 1 18:55:23 EDT 2004

Interesting point..
At what point does "turnkey" turn into COTS?
Maybe if COTS were really Consumer Commercial Off The Shelf or Consumer Off
The Shelf?
I would think that the intent of COTS is a sort of non-customized,
non-unique, catalog item.

But RGB makes a valid point that one can buy a complete turnkey cluster,
software all installed, etc.   However, these are not really COTS, in that,
I doubt any of the vendors has a warehouse full of them all sitting on the
shelf ready to be shipped.

It would also be interesting to know how many of those turnkey clusters are
being delivered to total cluster newbies who will use them with minimal
cluster specific training (obviously, they need to know where the power
switch is, etc.).  I'd guess that most of the turnkey clusters are going to
either someone who has used a cluster before, possibly having built one
themselves and recognizing they have better things to do with their time, or
to someone who will take a class or specific training on cluster use.

I see the COTS model is more consumerish, in that the seller doesn't expect
to have to provide much customization and support. Not many people take a
class on operating their TV or VCR or cellphone. Some people take classes on
PCs, but most sort of get on the job training from someone else who knows
more about what to do.  I don't think there's enough cluster folk about to
go for that model, though.

And, thinking of things where the complexity is between toaster oven and PC,
there was some sort of self-instructional video built into my new HD-DVR
cable box, and given the "rev zero" ness of the operating software, maybe I
should have watched it. (totally off the subject, but it's supposedly a
Linux based system running on a 733 MHz x86, with an integrated cable modem
and ethernet interface, etc..... There's a vehicle for "grid computing"....
The cable company can sell spare cycles on my box, and I'm paying for the
electricity AND the box too.  Maybe that's why they gripe so much when I
unplug it all the time (it draws about 100W, 24/7, so it costs more for the
electricity to run it than I pay for the HD cable service))

And, I have one of those $200 WalMart cluster nodes at's OK, but I
wouldn't buy another one, for a variety of reasons.

----- Original Message -----
From: "Robert G. Brown" <rgb at>
To: "Greg Lindahl" <lindahl at>
Cc: <beowulf at>
Sent: Wednesday, September 01, 2004 2:16 PM
Subject: Re: COTS was Re: [Beowulf] 96 Processors Under Your Desktop

> On Wed, 1 Sep 2004, Greg Lindahl wrote:
> > On Wed, Sep 01, 2004 at 12:41:24PM -0700, Jim Lux wrote:
> >
> > > "requires time and expertise to set up" is of course what makes
clusters (as
> > > a completed system) not COTS, even though the components or
> > > may be COTS.
> >
> > I learn a new definition of COTS every day. I hadn't seen this one
> > before.  I suppose all the parents struggling to assemble toys on Xmas
> > eve can console themselves that the mass-market item they bought at
> > Wal-Mart isn't COTS...
> And turnkey beowulf systems (built of COTS components) have been around
> for many years now.  In fact, some list members (ahem;-) have built and
> sold them.
> So the new computer cluster (orien?), with a new CPU, is actually
> FARTHER from COTS -- especially if the new CPU is designed only for use
> in the cluster market.  Hopefully it isn't -- it's questionable as to
> whether the cluster market can sustain a specialty CPU with so many COTS
> alternatives that stay cheap because they are mass marketed.
> Wal Mart sells compute nodes, too, if you want to use their cheap
> systems for that purpose.

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