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Raspberry Pi: Build your own turbo-charged cluster with OctaPi


If one Raspberry Pi isn’t fast enough for you, why not multiply its power by eight?

The OctaPi is a eight Pi compute cluster, designed to carry out tasks in parallel in a fraction of the time it would take one of the tiny $35 boards.

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While the setup may look intimidating, the Raspberry Pi Foundation has released a step-by-step guide to building your own OctaPi, setting out how to configure the hardware and software.

“You will be able to run any programs you like on your new cluster computer, as it has all the software of a regular Pi, but is more powerful,” says Laura Sach, content and curriculum manager at the Raspberry Pi Foundation.

The Foundation has a tutorial outlining methods for testing the power of the OctaPi, by running various tasks related to cryptography, the practice of encrypting and decrypting messages. The OctaPi is far faster than a single board at calculating prime factors, a key task when cracking encryption. However, the OctaPi’s combined power still falls far short of that needed to crack keys generated by modern encryption algorithms.

The foundation says two more tutorials outlining ways to harness the power of the OctaPi are on the way. To truly benefit from the increased power of the OctaPi, software needs to be written to take advantage of the cluster’s parallel processing capabilities.


A close-up view of an OctaPi, complete with Unicorn HATs.

Image: Raspberry Pi Foundation

Building an OctaPi is a bit pricey, you’ll need nine Raspberry Pi 3 Model B boards, eight for the cluster and one to act as the client orchestrating the others, as well as a shop-bought router and various cables.

To open up more possible uses for the OctaPi, you can also attach Unicorn HATs to each board in cluster, which adds a controllable 8×8 LED matrix display to the top of each Pi.

The OctaPi was inspired by the Bramble Pi cluster created by UK intelligence agency GCHQ. Bramble is a 66-Raspberry Pi cluster, made up of eight OctaPi clusters and with two ‘head’ boards controlling the clusters.

The multi-million selling Pi is designed to help young people learn about computers, and Sach says the OctaPi and its tutorials should help in “teaching the techniques behind some of our most important national cyber security measures”.

Firms have complained of a shortage of cybersecurity professionals for many years, with a Cisco report estimating there are one million unfilled cybersecurity jobs worldwide.

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