Making a case for Efficient Supercomputing

November 20, 2003 | Source: ACM Queue

The supercomputing industry focuses on growth of performance in terms of speed and horsepower, but performance/space ratio has not kept up because of “Moore’s law for power consumption”– that is, the power consumption of compute nodes doubles every 18 months, says Los Alamos National Laboratory computer scientist Wu-Chun Feng.

“The current trajectory is slated to reach one kilowatt per square centimeter by 2010, which is allegedly as much power per square centimeter as the surface of the sun! From a socioeconomic viewpoint, I believe that we must avoid Moore’s law and redirect the performance evaluation of supercomputing systems to metrics other than performance and price/performance.”

The Lab has developed a supercomputer called “Green Destiny” based on this principle. It is “arguably the world’s most efficient supercomputer.” Rather than using processors that consume upwards of 100 watts per centimeter, the Lab based Green Destiny on “low-power building blocks — for example, Transmeta processors that consume only six watts per centimeter.”

This reduced electrical power requirements and eliminated the need for facilities for cooling, humidification control, and air filtration. “In contrast, traditional supercomputers are now so large and use so much power that institutions often construct new machine rooms (and sometimes even new buildings) to house them.”