The Berkeley NOW project is building system support for using a network of workstations (NOW) to act as a distributed supercomputer on a building-wide scale. Because of the volume production, commercial workstations today offer much better price/performance than the individual nodes of MPP's. In addition, switch-based networks such as ATM will provide cheap, high-bandwidth communication. This price/performance advantage is increased if the NOW can be used for both the tasks traditionally run on workstations and these large programs.
In conjunction with complementary research efforts in operating systems and communication architecture, we hope to demonstrate a practical 100 processor system in the next few years that delivers at the same time (1) better cost-performance for parallel applications than a massively parallel processing architecture (MPP) and (2) better performance for sequential applications than an individual workstation. This goal requires combining elements of workstation and MPP technology into a single system. If this project is successful, this project has the potential to redefine the high-end of the computing industry.
To realize this project, we are conducting research and development into network interface hardware, fast communication protocols, distributed file systems, and distributed scheduling and job control.
The NOW project is being conducted by the Computer Science Division at the University of California at Berkeley.
The core hardware/software infrastructure for the project will include 100 SUN Ultrasparcs and 40 SUN Sparcstations running Solaris, 35 Intel PC's running Windows NT or a PC UNIX variant, and between 500-1000 disks, all connected by a Myrinet switched network. Most of this hardware/software has been donated by the companies involved. In addition, the Computer Science Division has been donated more than 300 HP workstations which we are also planning on integrating into the NOW project.
The Case for NOW presents a more detailed overview of this project or you can check out a list of NOW papers.