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IBM spearheads novel heating design, develops and tests it with the LRZ -- a German supercomputing center

International Business Machines, Inc. (IBM) is in hot water with its latest supercomputer design, and that's a good thing.  The company announced this week the availability of the world's first hot water commercial supercomputer.

I. Building a Better Cooled Supercomputer

Dubbed LRZ "SuperMUC", the system is composed of IBM System x iDataPlex Direct Water Cooled dx360 M4 servers.  It can pack up to 150,000 cores (in 18,000 Intel Corp. (INTC) Xeon processors) for up to 3 petaflops of execution at a time.  Describes IBM:

[This] is equivalent to the work of more than 110,000 personal computers. Put another way, three billion people using a pocket calculator would have to perform one million operations per second each to reach equivalent SuperMUC performance.

At the same time, by ditching traditional air cooling for a liquid coolant power costs to be cut by up to 40 percent over a traditional air design.  The water is heated to a hotter than normal temperature via special microchannels in the cooling blocks, hence the "hot water" name.  The heated fluid gets up to a toasty 113 degrees Fahrenheit, or 45 degrees Celsius, cutting the power consumed by cooling to around a fifth of the levels used in traditional designs.

Of course many tech giants like Facebook, Inc. (FB) and Google Inc. (GOOGuse liquid-cooling at their data centers, but even this somewhat more efficient technology is reportedly inferior to the new hot-water cooling system in power efficiency.

The system is also more compact than traditional air or liquid cooled designs, which require bulkier blowers, piping, and/or heat transfer systems.

II. Trial Deployment in Germany Shows Superb Results

Even greater savings can be realized by repurposing the waste heat from the supercomputer to heat on-site research institutions in the winter.  This approach was tested at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (Leibniz-Rechenzentrum -- LRZ) in Garching near Munich, Germany.

The LRZ, who helped develop the commercial supercomputer technology, not only was able to realize 40 percent power savings, allowing it to fulfill the German government's power efficiency mandates for research institutions, it also saved $1.25M USD on heating costs at the LRZ, via the attached waste-heat recycling system.

Dr. Bruno Michel, manager, Advanced Thermal Packaging, IBM Research cheers, "As we continue to deliver on our long-term vision of a zero emission data center we may eventually achieve a million fold reduction in the size of SuperMUC, so that it can be reduced to the size of a desktop computer with a much higher efficiency than today."

LRZ indoors
The LRZ saves money by using waste heat from the hot-water cooling system to heat workspaces during the winter.  [Image Source: Steve Lionel/Flickr]

Completed in July 2012, the new LRZ supercomputer is the most powerful one in Europe, and is a member of the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE).  IBM describes its work, writing:

This performance will be used to drive a wide spectrum of research -- from simulating the blood flow behind an artificial heart valve, to devise quieter airplanes to unearthing new insights in geophysics, including the understanding of earthquakes. The SuperMUC system is also connected to powerful visualization systems, including a large 4K stereoscopic power wall and a five-sided immersive artificial virtual-reality environment or CAVE for visualizing 3D data sets from fields, including Earth science, astronomy and medicine.

Munich and nearby German cities deeply rely on the Centre's computing resources for their studies.  Now they'll be able to do it more affordably, and set an example via a prototype of a design that will likely pop up elsewhere around the world before long, courtesy of IBM.

Source: IBM

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RE: Not really hot water cooled?
By haukionkannel on 6/19/2012 5:26:02 PM , Rating: 2
Well this is something new... Have to read my thermodynamic books again... So would colder water cause some kind of barrier between the prosessor and cooler?
Any further information about this would be nice!

RE: Not really hot water cooled?
By alexwgreen on 6/20/2012 5:30:03 AM , Rating: 2
It's been a while since I've had to fire up my scientific brain, but...

Getting heat from a processor to the ambient air in a liquid set up requires (simplified) 4 transfers of heat,

1. Processor to Block
2. Block to liquid
3. Liquid to heat exchanger
4. Heat exchanger to air

At each stage, there will be a temperature gradient, inversely proportional to the efficiency of the transfer, and the sum of those temperature gradients for the power output determines the temp difference between the air and the power source.

In these computing applications, the air side is usually chilled to obtain low core temperatures.

By allowing the water to increase to a higher temperature, the viscosity will be reduced, which in turn will tend to reduce the boundary layer between flowing water and the surface of the cooling block. This in turn will increase the efficiency with which heat is transferred both into the water at the block (2) and out of the water at the heat exchanger (3). A lower coolant viscosity will also allow for narrower channels in the cooling block, meaning the designers can get the channels closer to the processor further increasing the efficiency of the heat transfer into the block (1).

So, allowing the processor to run slightly hotter, has led to cooling blocks optimised for the higher coolant temperature, increasing the efficiency of the transfer at stages 1, 2 and 3, meaning that the incoming air doesn't need to be chilled as much, thus the huge energy savings.

Quite clever really, but calling it hot water cooling is, I think a bit misleading.

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