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I need to do some large scale image processing in parallel.

I was thinking of running a dozen Mac Mini's in parallel to do the data processing.
I need to run Microsoft Windows on the machines so I can pull the data from the network using an Active X control, the only way the data is available (there are plenty of servers that I can pull the data from).

Is there a cheaper / more efficient way using rack servers by Dell or another company? The Mac Mini has got the three things I need for $800 :

  1. Gigabit Ethernet
  2. CUDA video card
  3. 4 GB RAM (+100 from base mac mini).

Is there any setup that is cheaper ?

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4 Answers

Rack server against: noise, heat and lack of anything more than a basic GPU. Rack server for: centralising all of your resources (stuffing said server with RAM and CPUs) and getting it to do your heavy lifting, it makes computer management much easier.

I don't know what sort of image processing you require, but I'd be asking myself the following.

  • Is your task easy to distribute (ala hadoop) across several boxes?
  • Is it possible to do this on the intel Atom platform? Less heat/power needed, and cheaper, and you don't have to kill a dozen Mac Os's
  • Can one or two GPU/graphics card bear a lot of the grunt needed - if so look at gamer PCs?
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Actually, I would say that for a low-cost solution, that would probably be alright. The problems that I see are:

  • Typically server clusters use a stripped-down OS (think Linux or a BSD) with a bare-minimum of services / apps. Neither MacOS or Windows fit this bill.
  • You can probably get a better break on pricing going with another machine type. Honestly, you can probably get a laptop from an office-supply or big-box retailer for a comparable (if not cheaper) price. (...or NewEgg, or Amazon, or TigerDirect, or ...) Finding gigabit network and 4GB of RAM should not be hard. (While I love the Mac Mini, it doesn't sound like it gains you any real benefit in this case.)

Also, Mac Minis aren't Rack servers, even if you place them in a rack. (Yes, you can purchase rack-mountable shelves, but that still doesn't make the Mini a rack-server...) Rack-mount servers are a very specific chassis type. They aren't cheap; typically a rack-mount server will be more expensive than a comparably-equipped Tower server.

FURTHER:

If possible, it may be worthwhile to have one Windows box dedicated to pulling in the images (via your activeX control), dumping them into a share which is then accessed by a *nix cluster for processing. (Assuming that the downloading isn't the part that needs processing.)

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I already have plenty of nix cluster hardware available for processing. This is a preprocessing cluster. I need all windows machines pulling down data from the network as fast as possible. –  Naveen Dec 8 '10 at 21:47
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Have you seen the Helmer Cluster project? It is a low-cost cluster of machines used for image rendering. They even provide some stats/benchmarks at the bottom.

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You might find this thread helpful which talks about suitability of mac mini for Hadoop Cluster http://groups.google.com/group/bigdatasg/browse_thread/thread/51ad3da711d333d3

Document also available at: http://www.scribd.com/doc/76827185/Mac-Mini-Hadoop-Cluster

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