A computer cluster is a set of loosely or tightly connected computers that work together so that, in many aspects, they can be viewed as a single system. Unlike grid computers, computer clusters have each node set to perform the same task, controlled and scheduled by software.
The components of a cluster are usually connected to each other through fast local area networks, with each node (computer used as a server) running its own instance of an operating system. In most circumstances, all of the nodes use the same hardware and the same operating system, although in some setups (e.g. using Open Source Cluster Application Resources (OSCAR)), different operating systems can be used on each computer, or different hardware.Clusters are usually deployed to improve performance and availability over that of a single computer, while typically being much more cost-effective than single computers of comparable speed or availability.Computer clusters emerged as a result of convergence of a number of computing trends including the availability of low-cost microprocessors, high-speed networks, and software for high-performance distributed computing. They have a wide range of applicability and deployment, ranging from small business clusters with a handful of nodes to some of the fastest supercomputers in the world such as IBM's Sequoia. Prior to the advent of clusters, single unit fault tolerant mainframes with modular redundancy were employed; but the lower upfront cost of clusters, and increased speed of network fabric has favoured the adoption of clusters. In contrast to high-reliability mainframes clusters are cheaper to scale out, but also have increased complexity in error handling, as in clusters error modes are not opaque to running programs.