The UltraPi: Supercomputer in a Briefcase!
The UltraPi is a portable supercomputing cluster. Powered by Raspberry Pi 2! Hackable, in chrome!
What's an UltraPi?
Geeks today know that the Raspberry Pi has become an immensely popular hardware platform for projects of all kinds. The original Pi was a great springboard: cheap, easy to configure, runs Linux, and is well-supported by an active community. Some people even use them as a replacement for their desktop computers, and as media players.
But now, it's even better! The Raspberry Pi 2 is six times faster than the original, with a four-core, 1 GHz processor. And, the on-board Ethernet makes it simple to network them. Why, you could create your own supercomputing cluster easily! Well, sort of easily. And it would be this monstrosity sitting in the corner of your room. With wires everywhere. Hard to move around. Almost impossible to bring to a party.
So we said...
Why not build a Raspberry Pi Supercomputing Cluster into something compact, durable, transportable, like a briefcase, perhaps? Build in a gigabit Ethernet switch. And give it a cool, shiny look, to boot. Maybe even include a giant blue LED fan!
And we did it!
The UltraPi 16 is a 16+1 node supercomputing cluster built into an 18-inch by 13-inch by 5-inch briefcase. Why "16+1" nodes, you say? Because there are actually 17 individual Raspberry Pi 2 boards in the system. One is the controller node, so in fact there is 17 GB RAM available, and 68 screaming cores of processing power!
UltraPi 16, patiently waiting for lunch to arrive at the picnic table.
Did we mention that it's powered by the long-lost seventh Infinity Stone? Sorry, couldn't resist. Big 200mm fan keeps things way cool inside.
And speaking of insides, lots of boards. And cables. And cables. And cables. Hence the need for a custom board! (See below).
Detail of the stacked boards:
Booting up Raspian!
Running the GUI!
We wanted to keep the exterior look as clean as possible, so, in addition to the power connector and air vents, there are four USB connectors and an HDMI output, all of these connected internally to the controller node. There is also an RJ45 jack for connecting the network switch to an external network.
What can you do with it?
Let's say you're in school, working on your thesis, and your project requires some serious number crunching. You reserve time on the cluster in the Computer Science department. And then - the cluster is down for maintenance. Argh. You think: wouldn't it be great if I had my own supercomputing cluster, right here in my room? The UltraPi is for you!
Are you a Linux geek, perhaps? What might you do with a system like this? Up for a little MPI (Message Passing Interface) hacking? A friendly performance challenge hackathon? Get your friends over now!
You may have heard that Windows 10 is supported on the Raspberry Pi 2. No! Oh yes, it is true! Imagine the ultra-lightweight Windows 10 IoT running on 16, um, 17 GB of RAM? With 64, I mean, 68 cores? Could be mighty interesting!
Makers! Makers! Makers! What could you do with an UltraPi? Fast machine learning for your robot project? Genetic algorithms? A super-redundant web server? Let's see those projects!
These are the next steps, this here's where we need your help!
1. Custom Board Design and Production: Our prototype has a significant amount of cabling, for networking and power to the Raspberry Pi boards. We will design a board with integrated RJ45 connectors, and Ethernet on-board, so the Pis can plug right in, and be swapped out easily. There will also be a daughterboard to supply 5V to Pis via the micro USB connectors. Ideally, the network switch will be incorporated into this board, as well.
2. Power Supply: We will source a single power supply that will provide 5V at 10A for the Raspberry Pis, power for the network switch, and 12V for the case fan.
3. Beyond 16 Nodes: The prototype actually contains 17 Raspberry Pi 2 nodes - one controller node, and 16 nodes for distributed processing. The controller node is the one which users interact with via command line or GUI. We will build prototypes of 32 (33), 64 (65), and even 128 (129) node versions, if time and funding permits. In slightly larger briefcases, of course!
4. Case sourcing: The prototype case is an actual briefcase, with the padding removed. We will source the basic case shell from manufacturers, and find the best option for having the required port openings and ventilation holes cut.
5. Custom Software: We will create a customized version of MPI to run with the default OS supplied with the Raspberry Pi 2 (Raspian). We will also make a first pass at making MPI work with Windows 10.
Risks and challenges
We understand that a hardware project like this is not a minor undertaking. The most challenging task will be designing the board. Fortunately, this is a great community in which to share experiences and learn from each other. We keep close tabs on other projects we back, and plan to pay forward our experiences so others can learn from us and launch successful, valuable projects!Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (10 days)