Watering the Flops

Economist (01/04/12)

IBM recently presented two new versions of its BlueGene/Q supercomputer, which are being built at the Argonne National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The two supercomputers should achieve 10 and 20 petaflops, respectively, and are expected to be operational in 2012. They also will be two of the most energy-efficient devices ever created, producing a record two billion floating-point operations per second for each watt consumed, according to Argonne’s Pete Beckman. IBM’s system consists of several rack cabinets, with each cabinet holding several shelves. The system uses both air and water to cool the chips as they heat up during use. Flattened copper plumbing that comes in direct contact with the chips is used to pass the water as close to the chips as possible. Supplied air is used for about 10 percent of the cooling, and the machines’ designers have been able to increase the acceptable range for water and ambient air temperature, which will save about $2.5 million a year in cooling costs. Although water cooling is expected to remain a niche solution, the design is an example of how supercomputing researchers are often the first to solve problems that affect other computer hardware, Beckman says.

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