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I think I understand how supercomputers work in general, but I would like to know how they are configured. It seems to me that supercomputers have a separate computers at each node, each with it's own processor, memory, storage, networking and operating system. It's all that really necessary? Why isn't each node given a processor and memory and a way to communicate with a master node, which is a real computer. Each with be provided with binary ready to run. Why does each node need to be able to run it to own operating system.

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  • $\begingroup$ Your proposed architecture is called a star configuration and has been used on some older commercial machines. The disadvantage is that the central node is a bottleneck in that all node-to-node communications have to go through the central hub, limiting the communications to be serial. Other connection topologies don't suffer this problem, allowing nodes A and B to communicate at the same time as nodes C and D. $\endgroup$ May 13 '16 at 13:27
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It is pretty hard to come up with a specific definition of a supercomputer. From what you described I think you have clusters in mind, which is basically a network of computers with some task-division possibilities. Every node in a cluster is a computer itself and they might (or should) communicate with each other.

I think your question indicates a slight lack of understanding what computers are and what operating systems do (what do you mean by real computer?) If you have a processor and a memory you need some operating system to use them effectively. For example, you mentioned "a way to communicate" between machines - that is pretty tough to implement reasonably without an operating system.

I would recommend checking wikipedia page on computer clusters and taking it from there.

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