European Supercomputer Swaps Water For Air Conditioning

An increasing amount of the world’s entertainment and information coming from the digital files that make up the Internet. Although we talk about storing things in “the Cloud,” these valuable files are actually store somewhere far more concrete: in massive data centers that exist all over the world. You or I may never visit or even think about these cavernous warehouses full of quietly buzzing servers and microprocessors, unless of course our favorite website becomes unavailable for a moment or two.

Data centers, as we’ve reported before, are huge energy consumers. For starters, the internet never turns off, so neither does the equipment on which the internet lives. These servers are very delicate, requiring  precise climate in order to achieve peak performance. Cooling down a data center is an expensive task, as it can account for up to 50 percent of the total energy consumption of the center. Most use air conditioning, which is expensive and not very good for the environment. But an innovative cooling design for SuperMUC, Europe’s most powerful supercomputer, aims to make data center air conditioning obsolete.


Image via IBM Research

Some technology companies have suggested that renewable energy could be the answer to data centers’ giant carbon footprint. IBM, which has been experimenting with computer cooling systems since the 1960’s thinks the answer is water. In collaboration with The Leibniz Supercomputing Centre, the company recently announced that SuperMUC will use warm water instead of air to keep its tens of thousands of microprocessors at optimal operating speed and peak performance.

With the processing power of 110,000 personal computers, it’s not hard to imagine that SuperMUC might get pretty toasty when working on a difficult scientific problem. IBM’s hot-water cooling technology directly cools active components in the system such as processors and memory modules with coolant temperatures that can reach as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit.

The company claims the system can remove heat 4,000 times more efficiently than cool air, allows energy to be captured and reused to heat the buildings during the winter on the sprawling Leibniz Supercomputing Centre Campus, for savings of one million Euros ($1.25 million USD) per year.


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