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The PicoCluster Story

Posted on April 03 2017

Craig Brown is the founder of PicoCluster.  His story is really the story of a life-long love of computers, a desire to learn more, and necessity being the mother of invention.  I hope you enjoy it!

Craig's first computer was a Commodore Vic 20.

He got it when he was 12, just after his father passed away. That was the beginning of a life-long obsession with computers.

Craig's best friend had a full Apple IIe system, compete with green screen monitor and Apple Writer II printer.

Craig used to go over to his friend's house, even before he got the Vic 20, to play and learn basic programing.

The early home computer era is a favorite of Craig's. Not just because that's when he got his start with computers, but because it was a transitional time in the computer industry. Companies like Commodore, Apple, TI, Atari, Timex/Sinclair and many others, were competing in this brand new space.

Very few people thought there was a real market for a "home computer". Computers were for business. Nobody needed a computer at home. These companies were inventing the market and competing with each other as they were going along. The bottom line was that these home computers were really not that powerful, but they were good enough to what people wanted to do at home, and in business.

Fast forward a few decades into the era of cluster computing.

As a developer, Craig wanted to learn Hadoop to expand his skills and employment base. He went on Ebay and bought 10 Sun X86 1U servers.

Craig set them up with operating systems, networked them all together, then got to installing and running a Hadoop cluster.

It took him about a week to get the Hadoop cluster working properly. The bigger problem was getting a $600 electric bill the following month!!! He had to shut everything down. Craig decided to measure how much power the servers were taking. All together, they were consuming close to 3 kilowatts of power! That would be like running your AC on full blast 24/7. He couldn't afford to keep running the cluster, so there it sat.

In order to keep going, Craig needed an alternative. That was the germination for PicoCluster. He built a test cluster for a local tech show and displayed it there.

Craig got several requests to build more, but declined as that wasn't really what he wanted to do. As he thought about it though, he realized that many other developers had the same need that he did.

For PicoCluster, it feels to all of us like we're back to the early days of home computing again. These PicoCluster's are not super powerful, but that's OK. For a large number of use cases, at home and in business, they are more than powerful enough. The best thing is that they are inexpensive.  For example, with a 10 node cluster it's only 30 watts of power instead of 3000 watts. Think about that for a moment!

We hope you enjoy this introduction and join the future of desktop clustering the PicoCluster way!

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