Electronics and Software
Engineering Innovation


Beowulf System based on Alpha Data's AlphaNode hardware

Alphanode 2u high rack unit

(No longer recommended for new designs)


BEAM have been developing software for and producing parallel computing systems based on Unix for ten years. Most of our work has been with embedded processors installed within PC based Unix Workstations. Now with the advent of the Open Source Linux operating system, fast 100Mbit network switches, low CPU utilisation Ethernet chip-sets and low cost fast processors the way has been opened to produce very flexible, extensible and low cost  parallel computing platforms.

AlphaNode Hardware

The Alphanode hardware consists of 2U high 19 inch rack mounting case housing 4 DEC Alpha processors. Each processor has a local cache accessing 128 Mbytes or more of PC100 SDRAM RAM and two full duplex 100Mbit Ethernet interfaces. Local RAM is easily up-gradable. The Alphanode boots and runs from a host using standard BOOTP, TFTP and NFS protocols. This host can be a Linux Alpha or Intel based system or indeed any system that supports these standard Internet protocols. The nodes and host are interconnected by 100Mbit fast Ethernet connections, normally through fast Ethernet switch units. The Ethernet switch provides full bi-directional wire speed networking performance between all nodes giving a node bandwidth of 200Mbits/s per Ethernet interface. Normally the host is connected via a separate Ethernet gateway to the sites local area network. As well as using Ethernet switches point-to-point networks can be optionally used using the two Ethernet interfaces.
Each Alphanode processor can have a PMC interface card added. These PMC's include I/O, Alpha processing boards and FPGA boards. The system is inherently multi-user and can be used from the console or from any computer on the local area network. The system is expandable, more nodes can be added as required.
  • 4 * 21164 Alpha Processor @ 667MHz
  • 10.0 BIPS and 5.0 GFLOPS
  • SDRAM DIMM up to 1G per node 2MB level 3 cache
  • 8 * 100 Base TX Fast Ethernet - 2 per processor
  • 400MHz Ethernet bandwidth per node
  • 4 PMC IO Expansion slots providing support for FPGA compute engines, Networking, Frame Grabbers, Display Boards or other proprietary PMC cards
  • Slimline 19" 2U rack mounted unit
  • BOOTP/TFTP/NFS support - nodes boot/run from Linux or other host.
  • Linux ISP Providers
  • Linux Clusters
  • Beowulf Systems
  • Real-time systems

  • AlphaNode data sheet

    AlphaNode Software

    The software for the system is based upon the stable and becoming increasingly popular, Open Source,  Linux operating system. The host and each node runs an optimised  Linux kernel and has access to the full system resources. The system includes compilers for 'C', 'C++', Objective C, Fortran, Java, Pascal, Perl, tk etc. The Alpha Node processors run a Linux kernel that communicates with a host for all I/O.
    Software for parallel processing comes from the world wide development community and is based upon the work of the Beowulf Project at CEDIS. Software includes PVM and MPI. Also conventional Unix process communication and inter networking is available such as SYSV IPC, pthreads and TCP/IP networking. All of the systems software is available in source code form. In addition to the standard Linux and parallel processing software comes BEAMS parallel processing tool kit and a host of development goodies
  • Standard Linux and parallel processing software
  • Based upon Open Source Linux Operating System
  • BEAM's Parallel processing tool kit
  • GUI based symbolic debugger
  • GUI source code editor
  • Simple installation and maintenance of Alphanodes from host system.
  • Management of nodes from host system including boot up messages and control to reboot and power off.
  • Performance monitoring application for CPU's, RAM and communications in the system.
  • Communications Performance

    The performance of the inter node communications is very important in getting real parallel computer performance from applications. BEAM Beowulf systems are based upon a switched 100Mbit Ethernet network. The Ethernet interfaces on each node operate in full duplex 100Mbit/s mode providing a maximum bi-directional data rate of 200Mbits/s. The Ethernet switches employed offer full wire performance between all nodes simultaneously up to quite a large number of nodes.

    Processing Performance

    Each Alpha Unit has four Alpha 21164 667 MHz processors each of these has the following performance figures:
    Item Performance
    Specfp95 32.4

    Internet resources