Building a Cluster on a Limited Budget

written by Tim Callaghan on November 10, 2010 with 5 comments

In April 2010 we built a “budget cluster” to facilitate additional VoltDB testing (we already had a 12-node Dell R710 cluster). The requirement was to build a complete 6 server VoltDB cluster for less than the cost of a single R710 (much less actually). With a budget of $4,000 we decided to buy the individual parts and build the machines by hand. Everything was purchased from Amazon, NewEgg, and MonoPrice.

Parts for each Server
- CPU = AMD Phenom II X4 945 ($150.99)
- Memory (8GB) = Crucial Technology CT2CP25664AA800 4GB Memory Kit (2 x $88.99)
- Hard Drive = Seagate Barracude 7200.12 500GB SATA ($54.99)
- Motherboard = ASUS M4A785-M ($79.99)
- Case/Power Supply = Slimline Micro PC Case 350PS ($104.26)
- Operating System = Centos (Free)

Additional Materials
- Switch = D-Link DGS-2208 8 Port ($46.29 x 1)
- UPS = APC Back-UPS RS 780W ($183.52 x 2)
- Network Cabling = 5′ Cat6 Network Cable (6 x $1.21)

Building the servers was fun. Each required about 20 minutes of unpacking/assembly, 30 minutes of Centos installation/configuration, and a few minutes to be “racked” (3/4″ wooden shims separate each server). The cluster has been rock solid, running all the processors at 100% CPU utilization for weeks at a time.

budget cluster

In total we spent $3,409.26 on servers ($568.21 each), $53.55 on network equipment, and $367.04 on backup power for a grand total of $3,829.25 prior to tax and shipping. Not bad for a cluster that collectively provides 48GB RAM and 24 physical CPU cores. Another plus is that unlike a 1u or 2u rack server I can use the servers as temporary desktops (our two interns each used one this summer).

Have you built a “budget cluster” or do you have comments on my build? Let me know.

Tim Callaghan
Sr.Technical Consultant