Supercomputers can be Green – who knew?

ibm supercomputer
Photo Credit gimpbully

According to Wikipedia most modern supercomputers are now highly-tuned computer clusters using commodity processors combined with custom interconnects.

The IBM Roadrunner supercomputer, for example, is a cluster of 3240 computers, each with 40 processing cores while NASA’s Columbia is a cluster of 20 machines, each with 512 processors.

If servers and data centers are considered the bad boys of the IT energy world, then supercomputers must be raving psychopaths, right? Well, not necessarily.

The findings of the Green500 List, an independent ranking of the most energy-efficient supercomputers in the world, show that this is far from the case. In fact in their June 2008 listings they report that:

The first sustained petaflop supercomputer – Roadrunner, from DOE Los Alamos National Laboratory – exhibits extraordinary energy efficiency.

Roadrunner, the top-ranked supercomputer in the TOP500, is ranked #3 on the Green500 List. This achievement further reinforces the fact that energy efficiency is as important as raw performance for modern supercomputers and that energy efficiency and performance can coexist.

Other interesting findings from the list are:

  1. The top three supercomputers surpass the 400 MFLOPS/watt milestone for the first time.
  2. Energy efficiency hits the mainstream – The energy efficiency of a commodity system based on Intel’s 45-nm low-power quad-core Xeon is now on par with IBM BlueGene/L (BG/L) machines, which debuted in November 2004 and
  3. Each of supercomputers in the top ten from this edition of the Green500 List has a higher FLOPS/watt rating than the previous #1 Green500 supercomputer (the previous list was 4 months ago in February)

IBM come out of this list as Big Green – out of the first 40 ranked systems, 39 are IBM-based. That is an incredible committment to Green which can’t be argued with and for which IBM deserves due credit.

And speaking of Green, it is great to see a supercomputer based in Ireland, the Irish Centre for High-End Computing’s Schrödinger supercomputer, coming in joint 4th place on the list of Green computers.

What makes this even more interesting is that many supercomputers are used in climate modelling and for research into Global Warming.

It is counterintuitive that supercomputers would be highly energy-efficient but it is precisely because they consume so much power that a lot of research is going into reducing supercomputers’ power requirements, thereby cutting their running costs. Once again a case of the convergence of ecology and economics (or green and greenbacks!).