Four decades of cluster computing

Gerhard Joubert, Anthony Maeder

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During the latter half of the 1970s high performance computers (HPC) were constructed using specially designed and manufactured hardware. The preferred architectures were vector or array processors, as these allowed for high speed processing of a large class of scientific/engineering applications. Due to the high cost of the development and construction of such HPC systems, the number of available installations was limited. Researchers often had to apply for compute time on such systems and wait for weeks before being allowed access. Cheaper and more accessible HPC systems were thus in great need. The concept to construct high performance parallel computers with distributed Multiple Instruction Multiple Data (MIMD) architectures using standard off-the-shelf hardware promised the construction of affordable supercomputers. Considerable scepticism existed at the time about the feasibility that MIMD systems could offer significant increases in processing speeds. The reasons for this were due to Amdahl's Law, coupled with the overheads resulting from slow communication between nodes and the complex scheduling and synchronisation of parallel tasks. In order to investigate the potential of MIMD systems constructed with existing off-the-shelf hardware a first simple two processor system was constructed that finally became operational in 1979. In this paper aspects of this system and some of the results achieved are reviewed.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationParallel Computing
Subtitle of host publicationTechnology Trends
EditorsIan Foster, Gerhard R. Joubert, Ludek Kucera, Wolfgang E. Nagel, Frans Peters
PublisherIOS Press BV
Number of pages6
ISBN (Electronic) 9781643680712
ISBN (Print)9781643680705
Publication statusPublished - 2020

Publication series

NameAdvances in Parallel Computing
ISSN (Print)0927-5452
ISSN (Electronic)1879-808X

Bibliographical note

This book is published online with Open Access and distributed under the terms of the Creative
Commons Attribution Non-Commercial License 4.0 (CC BY-NC 4.0).


  • Cluster computer
  • Gain factor
  • MIMD parallel computer
  • Parallel algorithms
  • Speed-up


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