ORNL perspective on Summit: ‘I would be shocked if this is not the greenest machine in the world when it debuts’

summitpicWhen the new IBM supercomputer comes online at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the next couple of years, there’s a chance it’ll be world’s fastest computer with a peak capability of somewhere between 150 to 300 million billion calculations per second.

But the supercomputer that’s now under development by IBM, NVIDIA and others could also hold another distinction upon arrival at ORNL.

“I would be shocked if this is not the greenest machine in the world when it debuts,” Buddy Bland, the director of the Oak Ridge Leadership Computing Facility, said in a recent interview and tour of the new computer room that will house Summit.

Bland based his statement on plans to use much less power to operate the supercomputer. There will be additional emphasis on Graphical Processing Units to accelerate the computing capabilities, and the lab will greatly reduce its reliance on chillers to cool the powerful computer systems.

“Instead of using chillers to cool the water, we’re going to use evaporative cooling. We’re going to evaporate water and that will cool the other water that comes in through these cooling towers,” Bland said during a tour of the computer annex that is  a beehive of activity in preparation for Summit. “And that will be cool enough to run that water through and cool off the computers for something like 85 percent of the year.

“On the hottest, most humid days of the summer,  we will have to supplement that by using existing capacity from our chillers,” he said. “But most of the year we’ll be able to get all of the cooling we need without running any chillers, Today, those chillers use about 25 percent of all the power that comes into this building. We’ll be able to turn those chillers off 80-85 percent of the year. And not having them running at all saves a tremendous amount of power. So when we’re talking about green, that’s one of the features of this — using warmer water that can still cool off the machine.”

The new computing facility at ORNL will have a number of new features.

For instance, instead of having all the utilities running underneath the raised floor of the building, the power lines, chilled water lines, internet connections, cabinet-to-cabinet connections, etc. will be hanging from the ceiling.

“For DOE, this will be an experiment,” Bland said. “We’ve never built a computer room this way before anywhere in the DOE to my knowledge . . . We believe it is the right thing to do, but if it turns out to be more difficult or more expensive for some reason, we might go back to raised floors. But today this is how we’re going to do it.”

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About Frank Munger

Senior Writer Frank Munger covers the Dept. of Energy's Oak Ridge facilities and many related topics — nuclear weapons, nuclear waste and other things nuclear, environmental cleanup and science of all sorts. Atomic City Underground is, first and foremost, a news blog, but there's room for analysis, opinion and random thoughts that have no place else to go.