Jurassic Computer Park

by Robin Rowe

Editor's Note: See the upcoming July issue of LJ for Robin's article on the Industrial Light & Magic studios, the effects studio for the Star Wars series, and their conversion to a Linux renderfarm.

What is happening to the old computers being replaced by new Linux systems at Industrial Light & Magic? They're being recycled at ACCRC (Alameda County Computer Resource Center), the world's largest non-profit electronics recycling center. Located in Oakland, California, ACCRC is a self-sustaining, self-funded organization that trains unemployed, unskilled volunteer workers how to build and maintain Linux computers.

ACCRC processes more than 200 tons of discarded electronic equipment per month and provides refurbished computers to schools, scientists, governments, non-profits, the underprivileged and the handicapped. A Microsoft-free organization, ACCRC donated more than 5,000 computers last year at no cost to recipients. Thanks to a donation from SuSE, every computer that ACCRC distributes runs a full copy of SuSE Linux.

"We recently turned down donations of an aircraft carrier and a 727", says executive director James Burgett. "But we are ready to handle a 727 the next time one is offered." The ACCRC 38,000 square foot complex, a converted ice cream factory, is home to a Linux cluster and a radio station, and they are building a TV studio and a computer museum. The radio station is KOOX 93.7 FM. The Linux cluster is 30 Athlon 850MHz PCs and up to 350 recently refurbished PCs that are Pentium 166 or better. Rather than throwing away cycles on test diagnostics, the cluster performs useful work as a POVRAY-based renderfarm while the units are undergoing burn-in. The cluster uses MOSIX (see MOSIX: A Cluster Load-Balancing Solution for Linux") to transform racks of cast-off PCs into a single supercomputer.

ACCRC-provided computers find many uses. In Antarctica, the Chilean expedition is using them to study ozone depletion. The Russian Space Agency used them to keep Mir in space far longer than it was designed. Cambodia is writing its new constitution on them. And every public school in the Oakland area uses ACCRC computers on a daily basis. In addition, using the Linux cluster as an encryption testbed and as a honeypot is under consideration.

Robin Rowe is is a partner in motion picture technology company MovieEditor.com. He has led video R&D at a Fortune 500 IT company, taught C++ at two universities and was an NBC-TV technical director. He leads two users groups: LinuxMovies.org and OpenSourceProgrammers.org.

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