FlashMob I Supercomputer Takes On Linpack Update

Update (04-Apr-2004): A "flash mob" is a group of people who are called together for some particular purpose at a particular place. University of San Francisco students attempted to create the first flash mob supercomputer by getting 1,000 people to bring their laptops to the Koret Health and Recreation Center on Saturday, April 3rd.

(FlashMob I Supercomputer Team)

Utilizing the best efforts of over 600 volunteers, the students were able to create a supercomputer with 180 gigaflops (billion floating-point operations per second). Unfortunately, that was not quite enough to break into the ranks of the world's top 500 supercomputers; a capacity of about 500 gigaflops would have been needed.

Unlike traditional supercomputers, which are enormously expensive and usually require special buildings to house them, the FlashMob I is a distributed memory machine that costs only time and energy on the part of the participants. Each participant will be given a CD with specially written FlashMob I software and cables to connect their machines. The goal is to perform the challenging Linpack benchmark computation standard at a rate exceeding 403 billion flops (floating point operations) per second, thus securing their place in the 500 fastest computers ever made.

FlashMob I is a modified Linux kernel containing original software that allows individual PCs to join a network and operate as a single supercomputer. Standard supercomputer libraries such as MPI have been specially tuned for the unusual nature of a FlashMob and original code has been written to facilitate bootstrapping PCs, real-time reporting, on the fly network and node diagnostics, and ad-hoc performance optimization.

The software has been made available online; this enables other groups to gather to solve computationally challenging problems.

"We are attempting to popularise supercomputing," says John Witchel, the USF graduate student running the project. "Ordinary individuals, people with good ideas, will now be empowered to put a flash mob together to solve a specific problem."

Science fiction fans may recall the effort needed to build the Chirpsithra supercomputer from Larry Niven's very entertaining short story The Schumann Computer, taken from his 1984 collection Niven's Laws.

Thanks to Flash mob to attempt supercomputing feat. To find out more - and even sign up - visit the FlashMobComputing.org website or check the FlashMob Supercomputing FAQ.

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