Energy efficient supercomputers from IBM!


Photo credit Argonne National Laboratory

Supercomputers are particularly fast computers (often made up of thousands of “off the shelf” computers) typically used for highly calculation-intensive tasks such as climate research, molecular modelling, research into nuclear fusion, etc.

The Green 500 is a ranking of the most energy efficient supercomputers measured in Floating Point Operations per second/Watt (MFLOP/Watt). In the latest Supercomputing Green 500 List, a Q prototype of IBM’s next Blue Gene supercomputer came in at 1st place on the list.

What is most striking though is the margin by which the IBM solution took the first place. While many of the systems in the top 20 placings were achieving a respectable 400-600 MFLOPS/Watt and the 2nd placed HP solution came in at 958.35 MFLOPS/Watt. The winning IBM supercomputer however, attained a massive 1684.20 MFLOPS/Watt!

This is significant because larger computer clusters consume substantial amounts of electricity, both to power the cpu’s and also to cool the heat they generate. Efficiency gains in supercomputers mean lots of savings in the amount of energy (and therefore money) needed to run them.

What is most impressive, though is that since the Green lists started back in 2007, IBM CPU’s have topped every list! Kudos to them.


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!).