Green Supercomputers

Supercomputers use power at a prodigious rate, as do all large IT installations, and the topic of energy saving is the biggest one in IT circles these days. Here’s an interesting article that talks about IBM’s supercomputers and what they’ve done to make them more energy efficient. IBM made some particularly smart decisions almost ten years ago when architecting its current generation of chips and machines that are paying off big dividends today.

Some excerpts:

The top 20 greenest supercomputers are all built on IBM technology, and 39 of the top 50 use IBM technology as well.

[Dave] Turek, [IBM’s VP of Deep Computing] told me that’s no accident, and that it’s a result of decisions that IBM made back in 1999, when it had to make basic decisions about its next generation of supercomputers. The company was quite prescient about projecting the current energy crunch, and so decided that it would build its new supercomputers on an architecture that would be as energy-efficient as possible.

“Because of that,” Turek says, “our supercomputers are two to three times more energy-efficient that other supercomputers with the equivalent processing power.”

This is of more than academic interest —- there’s a great deal of savings involved. Turek provides some eye-opening back-of-the-envelope calculations that show just how much money can be saved when using a green supercomputer. 

He says that in some parts of the U.S. energy costs are 10 cents per kilowatt hour, while in some places in Europe, the costs are two and a half times that. A green supercomputer, compared to a non-green one, can save up to $2 million in energy costs a year in the U.S. and $5 million a year in Europe. 

“Many people keep these systems running for a very long time,” he says, “sometimes for as long as 15 years.”

The result? A potential savings of $75 million in energy costs over the lifetime of a supercomputer in Europe.

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