Wet supercomputer closes in on top of the flops


For the first time since 2009, a US computer has taken top spot in a ranking of the 500 most powerful supercomputers.

But as Lawrence Livermore‘s Sequoia BlueGene computer wrestles back the top slot in the TOP500 list from Japanese contenders, an interesting challenger sits in fourth place. IBM‘s SuperMUC may not be as powerful as Sequoia (yet), but it is far more efficient.

Compared to other supercomputers Sequoia is pretty energy efficient crunching 3 gigaflops for every watt consumed. But although SuperMUC manages just 0.86 gigaflops per watt, using a non-standard metric of teraflops per grams of CO2, SuperMUC comes out about 40 per cent more efficient than its contemporaries, saving the Leibniz Supercomputer Center in Munich around €1 million a year.

That’s because SuperMUC is the first full-scale supercomputer to use a novel form of water-cooling which recycles the heat generated by the processors. Microfluidic channels feed water right down to the chip level bringing the fluid to within just millimeters of the heat source before being whisked away and dumped at a heat exchanger.

And because the channels are so small it doesn’t take much water, or energy, to do the job; the equivalent of just three cans of soda is pumped into 18,000 processors every minute. In some ways it’s not that dissimilar to the way the human circulatory system manages heat, says Bruno Michel, head of Advanced Thermal Packaging at IBM’s Zurich Research Labs in Switzerland.

What’s more, this is not only a more efficient way of absorbing the heat, but it allows the thermal energy to be reused, carrying it away to heat buildings.

The long-term vision is to deliver a zero-emission data centre, says Michel. It may also eventually be feasible to achieve a million-fold reduction in the size of SuperMUC, he says, so that it can be reduced to the size of a desktop computer but with a much higher efficiency than is possible today.

Blowfish12@2012 blowfish12.tk Author: Sudharsun. P. R.


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