A surprisingly common find on campus is the wondrous "Forgotten (or Underutilized) Computer Lab." You can find them tucked away all over the place: quietly humming, sucking up electricity and distributing viruses/spam/worms...but not much else. ;)sje wrote:You might try connecting with a nearby school or university. They often upgrade and will auction off older machines, many or all of the same model at the same time.
When I was an undergrad, I worked w/ tech support in one of our larger departments/schools, and there were at least 3 of these orphaned labs (8 systems each) +/- 2 flights of stairs from my office. Students and profs all had laptops, flying cars, etc, so they'd stopped using the labs years ago. But the annual line-item in the budget kept them maintained (and kept me employed!) ad infinitum; who was I to complain? :)
In grad school, my assistantship (once again) put me next-door to an unused lab, which I was responsible for maintaining. After a few weeks of watching 20+ (fairly high-end) systems run nothing but NOP and Windows Update, I got permission to "play around" with Cluster Knoppix (and other LiveCD/DVD tools), "just so long as it didn't interfere with the [nonexistent] students needing to use the lab."
I bring this up for a couple of reasons:
First, from my experience, this whole "orphaned lab" syndrome seems pretty widespread... Now, you probably don't want to build your long-term Cluster Empire upon borrowed/temporary access like this, but it might offer a nice cheap/free environment for you to 'experiment' with one technology/software/architecture or another, so you can see what's available, what's feasible, etc, prior to shelling out the cash...
Second, although I know you said you're married to using Windows, it *really* might be worth it to check out this Cluster Knoppix (and/or various other linux-based clustering solutions) stuff. I say this based solely on the following:
- In under an hour, I went from a heterogeneous network of 20 locked-down Win2K workstations doing nothing to a fully functional/automatically configured, 20-node cluster, eager to do my evil, evil bidding.
- 45 minutes of said hour was spent downloading the ISOs and burning the LiveCDs needed to boot everything.
- Not counting the cost of said CD-Rs, the entire process was free.
- The initial setup/boot/configure process required almost no knowledge of unix/linux or weird-cluster-setup-issues.
- The year was 2001.
Worst case scenario, you wasted an hour or two.... Best case scenario, you get added visibility into the clustering options available to you, discover a way to use commodity/cheaper hardware and/or realize other opportunities for cost savings that you might not have considered otherwise -- enabling you to make even wiser purchase decisions later, should you decide to build/fund such a thing...
And you could always use a Windows box to 'control' the cluster via ssh/vnc whatever... If you can find a cheap way to borg up 20 computers and still have the pretty/easier windows interface you're used to, well...who really cares what's "under the hood"? You click the icon that says "tell the black box to play chess for a month" and the black box plays chess for a month... Pretty icon + desired result = enough for me.
- Besides, a famous prof once told me: "deep down, [computers] are all powered by black magic and voodoo, anyway"-- and who am I to argue? :) ...Favorite CS quote ever, btw.
I'd love to play with this stuff again... I mean, sure, folks are right when they suggest you won't be overpowering 60billion processor blade servers with commodity hardware and ethernet anytime soon (without burning your house to the ground in the process, thanks to the from the heat and electricity requirements of all those boxes, lol) -- but it would be a fun experiment nonetheless.
Find a way to let others connect remotely and you might be able to get nerds like me (who lack the space and electricity to commit to such a project, and yet, are still nerdy enough to be intrigued by it) -- you could probably find a few who'd play around (aka "help") if you wanted to go at it the F/OSS route.
- "An open source approach to clustered software development on near-free hardware, for purposes of analyzing/evaluating/grading the effectiveness of chess software, in the absolute *nerdiest* way possible." Lol, I can see the SourceForge page already. :)