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Workshop celebrates 20 years of Beowulf

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By Tom Wilkie

The twentieth anniversary of the introduction of commodity, or ‘Beowulf’, clusters is to be marked by a workshop 20 Years of Beowulf in Annapolis, Maryland, on 13-14 October, organised by the Center for Research in Extreme Scale Technologies (CREST). It is also being held in cooperation with the Special Interest Group on High Performance Computing of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM SIGHPC).

Beowulf marked a watershed in the development of architectures for high-performance computers, by adopting a parallel processing approach, using commodity components and open source system software. The original was a cluster built in 1994 by Thomas Sterling and Donald Becker at NASA. Sterling named the device after the main character in the Old English epic poem Beowulf because the eponymous hero had ‘thirty men's heft of grasp in the gripe of his hand’.

The initial target of the Beowulf cluster project was to develop inexpensive, smaller parallel computing platforms — to bring supercomputing to the masses. The approach was extremely successful and Beowulf/commodity clusters are being used worldwide across a diverse spectrum of uses from teams of high school students to most of the world's most powerful supercomputers as well.

The workshop will also mark the 65th birthday of Thomas Sterling, who is now a professor of computer science in School of Informatics and Computing at Indiana University and the associate director and chief scientist of CREST. Sometimes called the ‘Father of Beowulf’ for his role in developing the cluster at NASA, he has made many other notable contributions to high performance computing in architecture, runtime systems, and exascale systems.

Andrew Lumsdaine, Director of CREST, said: ‘We have been fortunate as a community to have someone like Thomas who has been so energetically pushing the envelope in high-performance computing for so long. His work in exascale computing is more than just his latest work — it is built upon the pioneering foundation he established over the last three decades with projects like HTMT and of course, Beowulf.’

Speakers for the workshop include: Paul Messina (Argonne National Laboratory), John Salmon (D. E. Shaw Research), Mark Seager (Intel), Don Becker (NVIDIA), Bill Gropp (University of Illinois), Dan Reed (University of Iowa), Jim Fischer (NASA Goddard), and Steve Wallach (Convey).

A special feature at the workshop on Monday afternoon will be a panel presentation, organised and moderated by Mike Bernhardt, former publisher of The Exascale Report and a Community Evangelist with Intel. Colleagues of Thomas Sterling will explore ‘Why Beowulf Matters’ and compete in a fast-paced trivia round titled, ‘So You Think You Know Thomas Sterling!’

Visit the 20 Years of Beowulf website to register or learn more.