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Big-FE - A cost and power efficient platform for high performance computing education

Alex Lemann(*), Josh McCoy(*), Tobias McNulty(*), Charles Peck. Cluster Computing Group, Earlham College.


There is a shortage of high performance computing (HPC) resources for educational use. Big-FE, short for Focus on Education, is a complete design and hardware prototype for a cost effective, energy efficient, and scalable HPC resource. Our design uses a diskless compute node architecture running the open source Bootable Cluster CD distribution. Big-FE is a synergy of the classic Beowulf commodity-off-the-shelf cluster philosophy and the commercial blade approach to computational cluster design. Leveraging the strengths of each approach, it provides a cost effective computing platform for computational science education.

We measure the energy consumption of the Big-FE prototype and compare it with popular commercial HPC platforms. Our physical layout is organized to minimize both maintenance and cooling costs. We detail the full cost structure and estimated performance for Big-FE and compare these values with those of popular commercial HPC platforms.


  • Topics to include:
    • Power consumption
    • Packaging and density
    • Cost of purchasing
    • Cost of ownership