Raspberry Pi is a small, low-cost series of single-board computers—undisputedly the world's most popular brand of single-board computer—manufactured by the Raspberry Pi Foundation to promote the teaching of basic computer science in schools and other key areas such as developing nations.
It is this small size and relative simplicity that makes the Raspberry Pi so popular among makers and ideal for use in small projects and portable devices. It may seem counterintuitive, then, to build a supercomputer made from a cluster of Pi devices—and that is exactly what Oracle has done.
The World's Largest Raspberry Pi Cluster
Oracle showed off its supercomputer at its OpenWorld conference on September 16. When asked why Oracle opted for 1,060 RPi's instead of a more predictable amount of 1,024, visitors were told that the decision was based on the structure's physical dimensions—about the size of an old British telephone box—and the need for a few spares… just in case.
The Raspberry Pi's forming Oracle's supercomputer are all running an Oracle Autonomous Linux and Java deployments that are networked through an Oracle Supermicro 1U Xeon server. Nine LCD screens connected to an external computer visualize each Raspberry Pi node.
Oracle's Raspberry Pi supercomputer. Image Credit: ServeTheHome.
How the Supercomputer Was Made
Coming in at $40,000, the build isn't exactly cheap and managing to get 1,060 Pi 3B+ boards running simultaneously without any issues is no easy feat.
So far as the supercomputer's architecture is concerned, each 2U rack of 21 Pi 3B+ boards is mounted on a 3D-printed carrier. Once mounted, each Pi board is connected into Ubiquiti UniFi 48 port switches with each switch uplinked via SFP+ 10GbE.
Finally, power—while Power over Ethernet is possible, Oracle opted to instead use USB cables.
What's the Point?
Oracle's sole motivation for building the supercomputer was that it simply looked good—the supercomputer doesn't serve a major purpose.
Raspberry Pi clusters are not practical so far as performance is concerned; they are not viable systems and it is not something that is going to go commercial. It is key to remember that Raspberry Pi's are simply advanced computing 'toys' that are ideal for hobby work and not much more. Throw in the excess circuitry and supplementary components required to put together a Pi supercomputer and it is clear to see why this is nothing more than a PR stunt.
Still, though, it is safe to say that Oracle certainly achieved its goal—while it didn't steal the show and was nestled away behind an arcade at OpenWorld 2019, it does look good.
Oracle Corporation is an American multinational computer corporation with its headquarters in California. Oracle sells cloud engineered systems, enterprise software products, and database and software technology. In 2018, it was the third-largest software company in the world by revenue.