A Case for NOW (Networks of Workstations)

Thomas Anderson, David Culler, David Patterson, and the NOW Team. The Case for NOW (Networks of Workstations). IEEE Micro vol. 15, no. 1, February 1995, pages 54 - 64.  Selected as an Award Paper in Proc. 1994 Hot Interconnects II, August 1994.


In this paper, we argue that because of recent technology advances, networks of workstations (NOWs) are poised to become the primary computing infrastructure for science and engineering, from low end interactive computing to demanding sequential and parallel applications.  We identify three opportunities for NOWs that will benefit end-users: dramatically improving virtual memory and file system performance by using the aggregate DRAM of a NOW as a giant cache for disk; achieving cheap, highly available, and scalable file storage by using redundant arrays of workstation disks, using the LAN as the I/O backplane; and finally, multiple CPUs for parallel computing.  We describe the technical challenges in exploiting these opportunities -- namely, efficient communication hardware and software, global coordination of multiple workstation operating systems, and enterprise-scale network file systems.  We are currently building a 100-node NOW prototype to demonstrate that practical solutions exist to these technical challenges.