Intent of Policy

High performance computer clusters have emerged as an extremely cost-effective tool for addressing large problems in scientific disciplines.  A computer cluster is made up of many individual computers ("nodes") functioning together to address a specific problem.  Typically, these individual computers are standard systems which may individually fall below the University's established 'capitalization' threshold (currently $5,000).  The cluster will be treated as a single equipment asset - that is, if charged to a sponsored budget, no indirect charges will be made against the individual components - provided that all of the requirements listed below are met.

Computer Cluster Criteria

In order to capitalize computer units (nodes) individually costing less than $5,000 but more than $5,000 when combined together as a cluster (single asset), all of the following criteria must be met:

  1. The combined units (nodes) are interconnected and work together to serve a specific purpose;
  2. The combined units (nodes) of a cluster are physically located together, rather than distributed throughout a building (i.e. they are not located in separate offices or labs) - note that you cannot include items such as a portable computer, printer or projector in a computer cluster;
  3. A clear reason for the use and acquisition as a cluster exists.  If a cluster is being purchased on a sponsored budget, the reason for use and acquisition needs to be documented in the grant proposal budget justification.  If funds are being re-budgeted after an award has been made to purchase the cluster, then the reason for use and acquisition needs to be documented either in a re-budgeting request to the funding agency or in the grant file maintained within the department.  For more information on re-budgeting, see Post Award Fiscal Compliance's page on rebudgeting, and this page on award changes.
  4. The intent of the combined units (nodes) is to operate as a cluster for a minimum of four years (the current useful life of a computer).
  5. The budget authority and in the case of a sponsored budget, the PI (Principal Investigator), accepts responsibility for meeting the cluster criteria.  To show this, the purchaser (with the approval of the budget authority or PI) needs to include a comment in the comment section of the Ariba order stating:
  • For a non-sponsored budget - "This purchase meets the criteria of the University's cluster policy."
  • For a sponsored budget - "This purchase meets the criteria of the University's cluster policy and the reason for the cluster's existence is documented in the grant or contract budget justification."

Purchasing a Cluster

Clusters meeting the above criteria should be purchased using the appropriate computer cluster object code (06-15 or 06-17).

Note:  All purchases using the cluster object codes will require a comment in the comment section of the Ariba order as detailed in #5 of the cluster criteria.  Object code 06-17 will also require an additional comment for the Machinery & Equipment (M&E) Exemption.

Note:  Capitalized equipment (06-XX object code purchase) is not subject to indirect cost (F&A - Facilities and Administrative Costs).

Tagging a Cluster

A computer cluster is required to be tagged in two ways:

  1. The entire cluster will have a single inventorial tag assigned to it, which must be visibly affixed to a central component of the cluster (such as the equipment rack, head-node, or interconnect switch).  This tag number and all of the required information should be entered into the University's OASIS (fixed asset) system.
  2. Each individual unit or component of the cluster (nodes, switches, racks, etc.) should have a smaller "cluster-component" tag affixed to it.  These smaller tags will be provided by the Equipment Inventory Office (EIO), and will not require any additional entry into the asset system.  They are simply a method for identifying a component as a part of the cluster.

Upon review and approval of a cluster requisition, EIO will:

  • Work with the departmental inventory contact to prepare the cluster component tags.  This will require that an unused inventorial asset tag be pre-assigned and set aside for the cluster, and the asset number communicated to EIO.  
  • Work with the departmental inventory contact to determine the total number of cluster components.
  • Generate and send the cluster-component tags to the departmental inventory contact.  These tags will identify the units as University of Washington property and include the department name and the inventorial asset tag number of the cluster.  They should be affixed to each and every component of the cluster - visibly, if possible.  The only exception is that a smaller cluster component tag is not required for the component with the "primary" inventorial asset tag.

Making Repairs to an Existing Cluster

If any component of the cluster needs replacement due to damage or failure, the replacement (regardless of cost) should be purchased as an 05-99 object code expense.  Repairs and maintenance do not add to the life of the asset and should be expensed.  Coding these properly helps ensure that the appropriate total value of the cluster is being used for accountability and depreciation expense purposes.

Expanding an Existing Cluster With or Without Multiple Funding Sources (also known as "add costing")

Additional computing units (nodes) and related components that are purchased to add to an existing cluster (and that are not replacing a computer that already exists within the cluster), can be "add costed" to the existing cluster if ALL of the following criteria are met:

  1. The total cost of the expansion is $5,000 or more;
  2. The addition contains at least one computer unit (node);
  3. The addition meets the original cluster criteria detailed above;
  4. The fund sources have similar title vesting of equipment (i.e. If the original cluster is University titled, the expansion must also be University titled).

The expansion to the cluster should be purchased using the appropriate computer cluster object code (06-15 or 06-17).  A note must be included in the purchase requisition identifying the asset tag number of the cluster that will be expanded by this acquisition (this is also known as "add costing" to an existing asset).

Requesting an Exemption

There may be situations where one of more of the cluster criteria is not met, but where the intent is still consistent with the cluster policy.  In those cases, the purchaser or PI (if on a sponsored award) may apply to the Office of Sponsored Programs for an exemption to the criteria, so that the acquisition may be treated as a cluster for accounting and inventory purposes.

If you would like to request an exemption, please email Amanda Snyder, Associate Director, Office of Sponsored Programs, and include the reason you are requesting the exemption. 

Note:  Lack of adequate funding is not an acceptable reason for an exemption to be granted.

Cluster Examples

Original Purchases

A department purchases 8 modes, a network switch to interconnect the nodes, and an equipment rack to house them.  Each node costs $1,200, the switch $400, and the rack $200.  These individual nodes may or may not be able to function individually.  As long as this purchase meets the cluster criteria, these nodes, switch, and the rack can be combined and tagged as one 06-XX cluster object code asset.

A department purchases 4 nodes and an equipment rack to house them.  Each node costs $350 and the rack $100.  Even if the purchase meets the five bulleted requirements above, the total purchase (including tax, shipping, and other acquisition costs) is less than $2,000. It cannot be capitalized and the 06-XX cluster object codes cannot be used.

A department purchases 8 desktop personal computers.  Each desktop computer costs $1,200.  The department plans to link them all together and wants to consider them a "cluster".  This will be allowed as long as all of the cluster criteria are met.

Future "Related" Purchases (Also Known as "Add Costs")

A department has previously purchased a 20 node cluster.  There are 2 nodes that are no longer working and need to be replaced.  Regardless of the value of the replacement nodes, they should be ordered as two 05-99 object code replacement parts, and are subject to indirect cost.

A department has previously purchased a 20 node cluster and wishes to add 2 additional nodes to the cluster.  Each additional node costs $1,000 and all cluster criteria are met.  Since the total cost of the additional nodes (including tax) is over $5,000, the department should follow the requirement of a cluster purchase, note in the order that the items are to be an "add cost" to asset tag number XXXXXXX and should use the appropriate cluster object code for the purchase.