Global environmental challenges
IBM supercomputer reuses heat to warm buildings
High-tech giants from Microsoft to Google are eager to cut the huge amounts of power used to run their data centers, particularly now that the recession has companies leaving no stone unturned to slash costs and global warming is driving them to think green.
Developed by IBM jointly with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) — a sort of Swiss version of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — the new supercomputer’s microchips avoid cooling with energy-sucking air conditioning.
Thanks to a network of water-carrying “micro-capillaries” that take water very close to the microchips, the system is cooled at a temperature of 60 degrees Celsius, rather than a “normal coolant” that requires a temperature of about 20 degrees Celsius, or air at around 6 to 12 degrees Celsius, according to IBM researcher Dr. Thomas Brunschwiler.
“Typically you would use air conditioning, which is very intensive, and this is eliminating that by using water to take the heat and transfer it away from the chips,” Brunschwiler said.
According to IBM, the computer, dubbed Aquasar, will reduce overall energy consumption by 40 percent and save up to 30 tons of carbon dioxide a year, about the same as driving an average car around the world 10 times.
In addition, the excess heat from the computer will be piped into the building’s heating. The 25 kilowatt system will account for just “a small fraction” of the building’s overall energy demand, but researchers said future applications are promising.
“In a future system if you run an entire data center in this mode then it will be a large fraction of the energy demand of an entity like this,” said Dr. Bruno Michel of IBM Research in Zurich.
It could be a while, however, before that happens. The ETH supercomputer won’t start operation until 2010, and the company would not estimate how much it will cost to build except to say that it will be more than a supercomputer with a traditional cooling system. The return on investment, however, is within one year, IBM said, given the system’s efficiency.
Photo Credit: IBM (A water-cooled blade used in IBM’s Aquasar supercomputer. The two microchannel coolers at the center are attached directly to the processors.)