How One NVIDIAN Built a Tiny Server Cluster Out of a Slice of Raspberry Pi

by Harel Kopelman

A casual stroll through NVIDIA’s headquarters might not provide you with scents of fresh baked goods, but a multicolored Raspberry Pi server cluster flashing its lights just around the corner might be enough to stop you in your tracks.

You can’t eat it. You might not even see it if you walk by high performance computing (HPC) systems engineer Adam DeConinck’s cubicle too fast, because this cluster stands at a petite five inches. Don’t be fooled, however — this device is the real deal.

Adam DeConinck sees his tiny Raspberry  Pi cluster computer as a way to play with new ideas.
Adam DeConinck sees his tiny Raspberry Pi cluster computer as a way to play with new ideas.

Raspberry Pi is a commercially available single-board computer created as a UK charity project to give schools cheap hardware students could tear apart and put back together again without worrying about ruining expensive gear. Since then, the hardy computer has been adapted for plenty of creative uses.

For geeks like Adam, the Raspberry Pi’s ARM CPUs, the same ones used in the vast majority of the world’s mobile devices, provide an alternative to the x86 architecture used by most PCs and servers. Adam – whose day job is building compute clusters on the Amazon Cloud and maintaining NVIDIA’s internal HPC clusters – likes to spend his spare time experimenting with his own, modest-sized cluster.

Although he admits that most people don’t build their own server clusters, which are sets of connected computers that work together as a single, more powerful computer, Adam sees his teensy cluster as a way to play with new ideas. The dinky machine is built from five separate Raspberry Pi ‘servers,’ each with its own tiny ARM CPU. The whole thing uses just 16 watts of power when running at full capacity.

“It’s basically a fun project,” he says. “Whenever I see some cool and interesting computer-related development, the first things I ask myself is, ‘how could I build a cluster out of this?’ I built this cluster because I thought it would be cool to have one on my desk to play around with.”

Adam isn’t the only one who had fun with this project. When Adam asked his wife, Leigh, who’s a non-techie, if she wanted to help create a Lego server rack for the 7 by 9-inch cluster, she quickly agreed.  “She thought it was a cool idea,” Adam says.

After ensuring his tiny cluster is optimized for speed and performance, Adam plans to convert it into a Hadoop cluster for Big (or not so big) Data processing, and use it to experiment with other system administration problems.

“Clustering with HPC servers is about solving problems with more than just one computer,” he says. “I build and work with clusters for a living, and one thing I always look for and get excited about is figuring out how you can work with new and interesting hardware in a scientific computing environment.”

Fellow employees agree that the cluster is innovative, but were disappointed when they discovered that there wasn’t yet any NVIDIA hardware in it.

But the future looks plenty green for this little cluster that could. Adam says he wants to get Tegra into it, turning it into a portable demo system to be shown off at conferences. Now that’s something you don’t just blow a raspberry at.

Raspberry Pi, with a side of Lego.
Raspberry Pi, served fresh, with a side of Lego.

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  • Martin Cataldi-Rogers

    tegra pi 🙂

  • jdrch

    Congrats, Adam!

  • Norman Jaffe

    Can you provide any details on the setup? I’ve got the same number of Raspberry PIs with a plan to do much the same, but I’m not sure where to start.

  • David Thole

    I’d definitely like to see a guide on this.  I can actually see this being something that I would actually want to build, too – would be a great learning opportunity at little cost.

  • Aiden

    I know they sell quad core snapdragon 800 boards, stick all 5 of them together with the 2gb of ram on each board, instant computing death.

  • Vadim

    Such an accomplishment, unbelievable! This guy deserves a Nobel prize 🙂

  • Jani Marko Ilari Turunen

    yeah nvidia hardware to it or just KAYLA cluster that would be great

  • Abimael Impaciente

    Podrias ayudarme con la creación de un cluster con maquinas virtuales en vmware

  • gianfranco risaliti

    Really awsss idea ! A distributed renderer open source over there with some GPU power would be really nice ! Congrats may you share some details about your setup ? 

  • Brian_Caulfield

    Stay tuned, we’ll reveal Adam’s not-so-secret recipe for Raspberry Pi cluster tomorrow. 

  • Brian_Caulfield

    Certainly. We’ll post the details tomorrow on this blog. Thanks! 

  • Alex Katz

    This looks awesome! Didn’t know Nvidia had HPC clusters on site. 

  • Alex Katz

    This looks great! Didn’t know Nvidia had HPC clusters on site, that’s awesome! Out of curiosity, what are they used for? Testing/benchmarking new GPGPUs? Or some sort of calculations to do with VLSI or GPU development? 

  • Vigintas Labakojis
  • Atte Peltomäki

    NVIDIA hardware is so poorly supported that it makes little sense to build anything out of. I got myself a Trimslice, but NVIDIA utterly failed to deliver – it still doesn’t even support HD video playback, despite hardware capabilities and numerous promises for support.

    -Atte Peltomäki – Senior Software Engineer, NVIDIA

  • He Jie

    need the details, plz!

  • Joshua Strobl

     Oh really…

  • Gordon Hollingworth

    Be interested in seeing how the 3D performance of a cluster of Pi’s would compare…  Each Pi has around 24GFlops of shader performance all you need to do is actually find someone capable of leveraging that power through OpenGLES…

    Now that’s what I call a compute farm!

  • deathboyuk

    Cool little project, but oh my god, the writing style!

    Imagine reading an article about Apple:

     “We visited the CORE of Apple today, at 1 Infinite Loop, to get all the JUICY info on the FRUITY little projects the boys at this IDEALICIOUS company had to TICKLE OUR TASTEBUDS”.

    It’s pretty tiring to read. We get that it has a food for a name.

    Interested to see what the cluster’s good for.

  • Jirka Kremser


  • Jason Arbizu
  • roy bowman

    Thank you !

  • Arash Khoshghadamnia

    Get Radeon, pal. that’s the real deal. Nvidia sucks. 

  • Karthik Sankar

    ISNT THE TRIM SLICE powered by tegra 2?…

  • Karthik Sankar

    since when did radeon have mobile chips?

  • Karthik Sankar

    LOL seriously ?

  • Vadim

    Dude, I’m being sarcastic. Any mid-level admin has a few arm devices nowadays and runs cool stuff on them. It’s just lame to make a big deal from such an “accomplishment”.

  • jeanpouquette

    Awesome project!!! Please push forward the idea of a Tegra “extension”!!!