It is our intent to build a computing cluster enclosure that houses small single board computers (SBCs) and the required networking hardware. This enables the enclosure to be portable, modular and docked into a desktop computer's 5 1/4" drive bay. Our Kickstarter campaign is planned around the steps needed to go from our working prototype to being able to build a production model.
The need to understand and develop in a distributed computing environment has never been greater. To build multi-processing applications where high-availability, security and performance are key indicators of success still requires access to expensive hardware and a clustered computing environment. It is possible to build an experimentation cluster using someone elses' Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering, but some vital skills like maintenance and configuration are not learned. They are left to the skilled professionals at the cloud provider. Some people want to learn and exercise those skills in their own "sandbox".
With the advent of very small SBCs like the Raspberry Pi and BeagleBone Black, computing horsepower is now available in a compact, low power and inexpensive package. When networked together, these systems make a highly scaleable cluster that provides everything needed to study distributed computing and MPI, the message passing interface software in use by most of the world's fastest supercomputers.
This project is intended to determine what a commercial version of the existing prototypes would need in order to be put into a full production model. We will be sourcing materials, developing software, creating hardware and documentation, and executing several pilot runs of dozens of units.
The actual costs to perform the engineering work, software development, documentation, testing and certifications will far exceed the target fundraising goal of the Kickstarter campaign. The purpose of raising funds in Kickstarter is to provide coverage of the variable (or per unit) costs involved in making the prototype and pilot units. This allows us to ramp up production in a lean manner and gauge market demand from early adopters. We don't want to make too many or too few. The rewards are structured according to how much we estimate the products will take to initially build. Post-campaign, production pricing may be slightly more or less, depending on the accuracy of our estimates.
The Target Market
The products are intended to be installed in computer labs and learning environments. Most units will be put to work in high schools and colleges to help STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curricula instructors build courses in High-Performance Computing (HPC). Hobbyists and remote learners will also find the form factor convenient and unobtrusive. Even SBC owners who have purchased several Raspberry Pis or BeagleBone Blacks may find the enclosure provides a handy case that helps provide clean power to their experiments.
We will be designing mounting brackets and a front bezel for the enclosure as part of the project. Additional work needs to be completed on testing, the use of more than one SBC cluster per computer case and whether or not the enclosure will need a fan. We anticipate having the remaining engineering work done by the end of May, 2014 and all parts sourced by the end of June, 2014. We are hoping to locally source as much of the manufacturing as possible but RPis will need to be imported and BeagleBone Blacks are in short supply.
The software distribution for the SBCs and host computers will be ready by the beginning of June as well. As a product, we intend to develop the distribution channels during the months of June and July and have the Shopping Cart ready on the notionovus.com website by the beginning of August.
Besides Brian Anderson, this project relies on contributions by several team members.
Joseph A. Driscoll, PhD
Dr. Driscoll has worked in industry as a software developer in the areas of Internet content delivery and bioinformatics. He was an Assistant Professor of Computer Science at Middle Tennessee State University. In 2011 he moved to Bradley University, where he was first an Assistant Professor of Engineering Physics, and then became an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering.
Dr. Driscoll's primary research areas are intelligent robotics, high-performance computing (HPC), and MEMS/NEMS (micro/nano electromechanical system) device simulation. He works with neural networks, genetic algorithms, computer vision, and other forms of artificial intelligence. Many types of robots are used in his projects, including flying, walking, and wheeled robots. As part of his HPC work, he has developed courses and several parallel computing systems.
Dr. Driscoll has a Ph.D. in Electrical Engineering from Vanderbilt University, where his research was in the area of intelligent robotics. He also has a Ph.D. in physics, where his interests include theoretical and computational physics of nanoscale systems.
Aaron Pfalzgraf is a senior in the Electrical and Computer Engineering program at Bradley University. Some of his current projects include a speaker recognition system to be implemented as a possible method of security for autonomous vehicles. He is also working on a research project with Dr. Joseph Driscoll on a Raspberry Pi supercomputing cluster for education.
Alexandra Burke is a senior in the mechanical engineering department at Bradley University. Her projects include development of a high mileage vehicle for the Shell Eco Marathon competition, and a project to create an autonomous tree-climbing robot with Dr. Joseph Driscoll. She has also written manuals for Briggs & Stratton lawnmower engine teardown and assembly, a water jet machine, a 3D printer, and an injection mold machine.
Dennis JM Donahue III
Dennis Donahue III is an experienced, highly effective intellectual property attorney, manager, and business advisor, with expertise in all areas of intellectual property law in corporate and private practice. After two decades as both an aerospace engineer and then a leader in large midwest-based law firm, Dennis launched his own practice. CreatiVenture Law, LLC is the realization of his dream to work side by side with entrepreneurs and those on the cutting edge of technology and business. His clients range from small inventors to mutli-million dollar technology, manufacturing, and retail companies.
Dennis has also served as an Adjunct Professor at St. Louis University School of Law, teaching “Anatomy of a Patent.” He offers seminars on Intellectual Property law to business leaders from companies of all sizes, as well as local business networking groups.
INTEGRIS Engineering is a company of passionate engineers specializing in product engineering throughout the New Product Introduction process. Whether it’s conceptualization, 3D modeling, computer simulation, prototyping, testing, procurement or project management, INTEGRIS executes all that is involved in creating new or improving existing products. Their goal is to develop well engineered products that fill a need and leave a lasting impression.
Partnering with INTEGRIS has filled a need, which has allowed our electrical and software team members to focus on their areas of expertise. INTEGRIS’ experience and interests in the startup community make them a perfect partner. Visit their website at engineering.integrisgp.com to learn more of the spirit of the company.
Video Skit Actors: Ken and Connie Zurski
There are several projects related to the SBC enclosure that we will invest our effort in if there is adequate additional funding.
Create 2-up and 3-up enclosures. In most desktop cases there is room for multiple enclosures. The advantage of a 2-up enclosure would be to put 6 SBCs on one 8-port switch (lower power, faster network). A 3-up arrangement would allow for ten SBCs (a three high cage allows for more room and a 12-port switch enables lower power per CPU, an additional CPU and faster networking) to share a custom 12-port switch, all enclosed in a 5 1/4" x 3 drives high form factor.
Create an open source cluster node. While the current crop of SBCs are ideal for general-purpose hobby and educational use, There are several modifications that could be made to optimize these platforms into a smaller, faster, more reliable, lower power, less expensive cluster node. We will evaluate the new Raspberry Pi Compute Module in an effort to maximize performance based on power requirements and cost.
Build a hub for HPC learning on the web. The HPC world is somewhat fragmented in direction and thought. A StackExchange community could be built for supporting experimenters and educators. A website that hosts sample code, articles, distributions and discussions would help to bring parallel processing out of its niche and into the mainstream.
Look also for further efforts towards HPC in STEM curricula involving SBCs like the Raspberry Pi Compute Module.