Setting up your own Raspberry Pi cluster

By: Dr Alistair Grant, EPCC.

This post was first published on the EPCC blog.

Wee ARCHIE: a wee bit of history

Wee ARCHIE Blue after running CFD Wing Simulator with MacBook client and visitor’s cuddly pig at EISF207

Some time ago (actually 2015), EPCC built a Raspberry Pi cluster called Wee ARCHIE to demonstrate some of the principles behind a full-sized supercomputer. We designed the cluster to be portable as we can’t carry around a real supercomputer and just looking at a laptop “connected” to some remote system isn’t that engaging.

The Wee ARCHIE unit is small, light and far less powerful than real supercomputers but it does allow us to show how the large ones work, what they are made of, and the basics of how they are assembled. The clusters are functional, so people can use them and we can show how the simulations they use are split across the cluster.

After using Wee ARCHIE at multiple events including Big Bang Fair 2016/2017 and Edinburgh Iinternational Science Festival 2017 (EISF), we found it was being used so often that we had to build a second unit to accommodate all the use. A large number of people have used the Wee ARCHIE units, and many have asked for instructions to set up their own Raspberry Pi clusters.

This popularity left us with a little bit of a problem: if the units were at events, how could we test new developments with them?

The solution: Wee Archlet

To facilitate development of new demonstrations and system updates, we decided to create two smaller development clusters. Known as Wee Archlet, these clusters facilitate the development of applications and test system updates, and are available for additional events. Indeed we used one at EISF2017 to supplement our newer Wee ARCHIE.

While setting up the new clusters, we decided it would be helpful to publish instructions to help others build their own clusters. A few months later, we have finished our initial version of instructions for setting up Wee Archlet.

 

Lego-cased Wee Archlet at EISF2017

These instructions are written for people who have some knowledge about computers, know which end of a cable goes where, and aren’t afraid to mess things up a little.

The instructions have been tested in-house but this will not catch all the problems which could occur. So try them out, but if you find a problem or have a suggestion, contact us. We will update the instructions and add new ‘gotchas’ so others can benefit from your experience.

In the future, we intend to release our demonstrations so people can use and test them. If you have an idea for a demonstration or wish to contribute one, again get in contact. Our hope is that we in EPCC and others with an interest in inspiring and involving new people in computing, supercomputers and science on computers will be able to share our software, practices and knowledge.

So, try out the instructions, contact us with success or problems, and share what your clusters look like.

Useful Links

Wee Archlet build instructions: https://epcced.github.io/wee_archlet/(link is external)

For submitting problems or suggestions, you can access the GitHub repository and post issues at: https://github.com/EPCCed/wee_archlet

About the Author:

Alistair Grant is an Applications Consultant at EPCC, the Scottish Supercomputing Centre at the University of Edinburgh. Alistair has been involved in outreach activities for many years, engaging the next generation of HPC experts. This work was funded by the ARCHER Outreach project, an outreach programme supported by dedicated funding from the UK’s Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC), and designed to encourage young people to gain an understanding of High Performance Computing, Computational Science and Programming.

A highlight of the programme is Wee ARCHIE, a suitcase-sized supercomputer designed and built to explain what a supercomputer is.

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