Design a Micro-Data Center: Win 10000 US dollars

Jon

Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Apr 09, 2015 GMT
Jon maddog Hall

For a couple of years now I have been interested in small, low-power, single-board computers. First they were interesting as “Thin clients” or “Media Centers” or other stand-alone uses. I used units like the Beagle Bone Black, the UDOO, and others, testing out their capabilities.

Then along came the Raspberry Pi and a whole world began to open up of people building different things. One of the projects that interested me was building a “high performance computing (HPC) system” out of Raspberry Pis.

Unfortunately I did not think the initial Raspberry Pi Model B was that interesting for “HPC”. The processor was single core, fairly slow (by HPC standards) and the overhead of sending packets across the network for distributed applications might remove any benefit from using a parallel model in your code.

However, this did inspire me to start to design a simple “cluster” that could be used to demonstrate not only “HPC” computing, but also asymmetric designs, to allow programming of different resources such as more powerful GPUs, FPGAs and DSPs.

My criteria were simple:

  • to make it fit into a standard briefcase for portability
  • to have at least six to seven “units” of computation
  • to have enough disk storage to show distributed file-systems
  • make it fast and easy to set up and dismantle for transport
  • to make it physically appealing
  • to allow heterogeneous operating systems to run on it

Using a simple gigabit switch, two 1 Tera-byte disk drives, six Banana Pi computers (the Banana Pro was not out yet), some Plexiglas panels, two five-volt, 10 Amp power supplies and a lot of cables, I was able to put together a demonstration unit, for which I am now determining which software and how to configure it to demonstrate the various things I want to show people:

  • highly available server configuration
  • HPC configuration and programming
  • heterogeneous systems administration
  • heterogeneous programming
  • low power utilization

The total unit had two Terabytes of disk (one if using RAID for redundancy), 12 cores of CPU, 6 Gbytes of RAM, six HDMI ports, 12 USB 2.0 ports, and still had two ETHERNET ports left over for attaching to the Internet and other uses. The bottom two Banana Pis controlled the SATA disk drives with their built-in controller and I am going to configure them as a highly available server. The whole system used about 100 Watts of power.

The unit cost me about 500 US dollars to create because I insisted on using acrylic plastic for the supports (these could have been of less expensive wood), and because I had a couple of “mistakes” in creating it that made me start over. I think someone could duplicate what I have for 400 USD or less.

There are changes I might make to it, the biggest one being to use shorter ETHERNET cables and to use Power Over ETHERNET (PoE) to deliver the power to each board just by using the power going over the hard-wired ETHERNET cables from an appropriate switch or a “power injector” used in association with the switch. This would cut down on the amount of wires considerably, and possibly cut down on the number of power bricks, since the switch would deliver the power for all of the single board computers. Of course using wood in place of the Plexiglas sheets would also cut expense.

I took the unit to CeBIT to demonstrate it there, and I ran into part of the LeMaker Banana Pi development and marketing team that was in another hall of CeBIT. They told me about a contest jointly being sponsored by Inveneo, ARM, LeMaker SIAT and Protocase to build a “micro-data center” out of low-cost ARM single-board computers. The first prize is 10,000 USD, the second prize is one Google 7” Nexus Tablet for each team member.

The Contest for designing the Micro-Data Center

The micro-data center should be made of “up to 15” ARM single-board computers somewhat like the Banana Pro or other small computers. The micro-center also has to have 10 solid state disks, a gigabit switch and run in a relatively harsh environment (50 degrees Celsius and high humidity), with an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) built into the unit, able to run off 12 or 24 volt DC input with passive cooling. The total rules for entry, criteria for the systems and FAQ are located on the Inveneo and LeMaker sites.

The contest is open to TEAMS of 3-7 people (not individuals), and it should be noted that the contest does not require that the team actually build the submitted design, only that well documented engineering designs are submitted, justified and able to be built. Protocase will fabricate the designs of the top two winners and top three runners-up. Protocase is donating the use of their CAD tools and their expertise to the teams.

Given that the designs do not actually have to be assembled by the teams, nor to they have to be provisioned with software (although the rules loosely state the software that is to run on the systems),

the contest is not as time-consuming as it might seem at first.

The FAQ at Inveneo shows an Ubuntu Orange Box as “inspiration”. Unfortunately I think it is the wrong type of “inspiration”, as the Ubuntu Orange Box has a starting price tag of 7,575 British Pounds, and although it is a very nice design, in my opinion it is too expensive. While the 10 computational units in the Ubuntu Orange box are passively cooled, the power supply is not passively cooled as the contest requires.

I believe the contestants would probably be more inspired starting with a minimal design and working upwards.

In any case I think this is a very interesting contest and hopefully will generate several innovative, easy to fabricate designs for low-energy, high performance computing that can be used in environments where this type of computing has never gone before.

But you will have to hurry, the date for the final entry is June 10, 2015 and you have to sign up and be approved before that.

People from Europe and the Americas can get started at the Inveneo site, people from China and Hong Kong might want to get started at the LeMaker site.

Care Diem!

For a couple of years now I have been interested in small, low-power, single-board computers. First they were interesting as “Thin clients” or “Media Centers” or other stand-alone uses. I used units like the Beagle Bone Black, the UDOO, and others, testing out their capabilities.

Then along came the Raspberry Pi and a whole world began to open up of people building different things. One of the projects that interested me was building a “high performance computing (HPC) system” out of Raspberry Pis.

Unfortunately I did not think the initial Raspberry Pi Model B was that interesting for “HPC”. The processor was single core, fairly slow (by HPC standards) and the overhead of sending packets across the network for distributed applications might remove any benefit from using a parallel model in your code.

However, this did inspire me to start to design a simple “cluster” that could be used to demonstrate not only “HPC” computing, but also asymmetric designs, to allow programming of different resources such as more powerful GPUs, FPGAs and DSPs.

My criteria were simple:

o to make it fit into a standard briefcase for portability 

o to have at least six to seven “units” of computation

o to have enough disk storage to show distributed file-systems

o make it fast and easy to set up and dismantle for transport

o to make it physically appealing

o to allow heterogeneous operating systems to run on it

Using a simple gigabit switch, two 1 Tera Byte disk drives, six Banana Pi computers (the Banana Pro was not out yet), some Plexiglas panels, two five-volt, 10 Amp power supplies and a lot of cables, I was able to put together a demonstration unit, for which I am now determining which software and how to configure it to demonstrate the various things I want to show people:

o highly available server configuration

o HPC configuration and programming

o heterogeneous systems administration

o heterogeneous programming

o low power utilization

The total unit had two Tbytes of disk (one if using RAID for redundancy), 12 cores of CPU, 6 Gbytes of RAM, six HDMI ports, 12 USB 2.0 ports, and still had two ETHERNET ports left over for attaching to the Internet and other uses. The bottom two Banana Pis controlled the SATA disk drives with their built-in controller and I am going to configure them as a highly available server. The whole system used about 100 Watts of power.

The unit cost me about 500 US dollars to create because I insisted on using acrylic plastic for the supports (these could have been of less expensive wood), and because I had a couple of “mistakes” in creating it that made me start over. I think someone could duplicate what I have for 400 USD or less.

There are changes I might make to it, the biggest one being to use shorter ETHERNET cables and to use Power Over ETHERNET (PoE) to deliver the power to each board just by using the power going over the hard-wired ETHERNET cables from an appropriate switch or a “power injector” used in association with the switch. This would cut down on the amount of wires considerably, and possibly cut down on the number of power bricks, since the switch would deliver the power for all of the single board computers. Of course using wood in place of the Plexiglas sheets would also cut expense.

I took the unit to CeBIT to demonstrate it there, and I ran into part of the LeMaker Banana Pi development and marketing team that was in another hall of CeBIT. They told me about a contest jointly being sponsored by Inveneo, ARM, LeMaker SIAT and Protocase to build a “micro-data center” out of low-cost ARM single-board computers. The first prize is 10,000 USD, the second prize is a Google 7” Nexus Tablet for each team member.

The Contest for designing the Micro-Data Center

The micro-data center should be made of “up to 15” ARM single-board computers somewhat like the Banana Pro or other small computers. The micro-center also has to have 10 solid state disks, a gigabit switch and run in a relatively harsh environment (50 degrees Celsius and high humidity), with an Uninterrupted Power Supply (UPS) built into the unit, able to run off 12 or 24 volt DC input with passive cooling. The total rules for entry, criteria for the systems and FAQ are located on the Inveneo site.

The contest is open to TEAMS of 3-7 people (not individuals), and it should be noted that the contest does not require that the team actually build the summited design, only that well documented engineering designs are submitted, justified and able to be built. Protocase will fabricate the designs of the top two winners and top three runners-up. Procase is donating the use of their CAD tools and their expertise to the teams.

Given that the designs do not actually have to be assembled by the teams, nor to they have to be provisioned with software (although the rules loosely state the software that is to run on the systems),

the contest is not as time-consuming as it might seem at first.

The FAQ at Inveneo shows an Ubuntu Orange Box as “inspiration”. Unfortunately I think it is the wrong type of “inspiration”, as the Ubuntu Orange Box has a starting price tag of 7,575 British Pounds, and although it is a very nice design, in my opinion it is too expensive. While the 10 computational units in the Ubuntu Orange box are passively cooled, the power supply is not passively cooled as the contest requires.

I believe the contestants would probably be more inspired starting with a minimal design and working upwards.

In any case I think this is a very interesting contest and hopefully will generate several innovative, easy to fabricate designs for low-energy, high performance computing that can be used in environments where this type of computing has never gone before.

But you will have to hurry, the date for the final entry is June 10, 2015 and you have to sign up and be approved before that.

People from Europe and the Americas can get started at the Inveneo site, people from China and Hong Kong might want to get started at the LeMaker site.

Carpe Diem!

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