What makes a cluster a Beowulf?
Cluster is a widely-used term meaning independent computers combined into a unified system through software and networking. At the most fundamental level, when two or more computers are used together to solve a problem, it is considered a cluster. Clusters are typically used for High Availability (HA) for greater reliability or High Performance Computing (HPC) to provide greater computational power than a single computer can provide.
Beowulf Clusters are scalable performance clusters based on commodity hardware, on a private system network, with open source software (Linux) infrastructure. The designer can improve performance proportionally with added machines. The commodity hardware can be any of a number of mass-market, stand-alone compute nodes as simple as two networked computers each running Linux and sharing a file system or as complex as 1024 nodes with a high-speed, low-latency network.
Class I clusters are built entirely using commodity hardware and software using standard technology such as SCSI, Ethernet, and IDE. They are typically less expensive than Class II clusters which may use specialized hardware to achieve higher performance.
Common uses are traditional technical applications such as simulations, biotechnology, and petro-clusters; financial market modeling, data mining and stream processing; and Internet servers for audio and games.
Beowulf programs are usually written using languages such as C and FORTRAN. They use message passing to achieve parallel computations. See Beowulf History for more information on the development of the Beowulf architecture.