IBM heats university via supercomputer

June 25, 2009 | 13:00

Tags: #blade-server #supercomputer

Companies: #ibm

IBM has teamed up with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology to develop a supercomputer which requires far less cooling than ever before – and uses its excess heat output to warm the building to boot.

As reported by CNet, the impressively named Aquasar supercomputer – which is based around a pair of IBM's BladeCenter servers filled with a mixture of traditional Intel Nehalem-based processors and the rather more exotic IBM PowerXCell 8i – is predicted to offer a not inconsiderable 10 teraflops of processing power to its users.

With so much power cramped in a pair of racks, heat is a concern – but here's where things get clever. Rather than the traditional high-powered HVAC systems required by standard supercomputers – systems which have a high power draw and significantly increase the cost of running such a system – the Aquasar uses a watercooling system to keep things ticking over.

While watercooling is nothing new, the way the system works is something a bit special: the water used isn't actually chilled, but instead is introduced into the system at a temperature of 60°C. IBM believes this will be sufficient to keep the processors below their maximum operating temperatures of 85°C.

By dispensing with traditional chilling systems, IBM believes that its new system will use upwards of 40 percent less power than traditional supercomputer rigs. Further savings – both monetary and environmental – are made by using the by now quite toasty water, which leaves the system at around 65°C, to heat the building in which the system is installed.

The new system – which further increases efficiency by using a system of jet impingement cooling where the water actually makes direct contact with the surface of the chip – will use a sealed-loop system containing around ten litres of water, which will be pumped through the system three times every minute. A heat exchanger will deliver the excess heat directly to the university's existing heating system without compromising the sealed loop.

Fancy the thought of heating your house in winter via your Folding@Home farm, or does the entire concept of a watercooling system that runs at a whopping 60°C seem madness? Share your thoughts over in the forums.
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