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Energy-efficient supercomputers

LOS ALAMOS, N.M., August 2002 -- Users of high-performance computers traditionally have focused on the cost of acquiring the big machines instead of the costs of maintenance, power and people. Not so with "Green Destiny."

The cost of electrical power consumption, operations, computer floor space and lost computing time because of system failures should be figured into the cost of computing, say Los Alamos National Laboratory researchers who are leading the work on the Lab's "Green Destiny" computer. Supercomputers of the future, they say, may very well be like Green Destiny small, extremely stable and miserly in their power use.

Green Destiny, whose processors operate roughly one-tenth as hot as market-leading chips, has been running continuously since September 2001 in a hot, dusty warehouse with no down time and no special cooling.

"Everyone's fixed on the mantra of performance at all costs," says the Laboratory's Wu Feng who, together with Michael Warren and Eric Weigle, has been working with Green Destiny. "What we've done is redefine the price-to-performance ratio to look at efficiency, reliability and availability total cost of ownership."

Green Destiny represents a new type of supercomputer, Feng says. The machine packs processors made by Transmeta Corp. onto slim server "blades," or boards, made by RLX Technologies. It uses about one-third the electricity and 5 percent of the space to give performance comparable to the previous generation of so-called cluster computers.

More important is the machine's reliability. Typical computing-intensive businesses depend on servers to handle thousands of requests for information simultaneously. When the servers go down, hourly losses can range up to $6.5 million for a large brokerage firm. As processor temperatures increase by 10 degrees C., failure rates double, Feng says.

Green Destiny represents a promising research advance, say Stephen Lee, acting deputy leader of the Los Alamos Computer and Computation Sciences Division. But he emphasizes the national need for larger platforms that are uniquely able to move huge amounts of data in and out of memory rapidly, such as Los Alamos' Q machine, developed for the Advanced Simulation and Computing Program (ASCI).

"This (Green Destiny) could be the next important step in scalable supercomputing," Lee notes, "but maintaining the stockpile in the face of aging weapons, eroding expertise and nearly a decade without nuclear testing demands three-dimensional, full physics computing on terascale computers today, while designers and engineers with weapon test experience are still available to validate the ASCI simulations."

Feng believes the best use for machines like Green Destiny might be in the inexpensive development of scientific codes, whether for weapons, bioinformatics or other large-scale simulations. Once the code has been developed and stabilized, it could move to an ASCI-style supercomputer.


More information about the "Supercomputing in Small Spaces" project at Los Alamos is available in a paper at public.lanl.gov/feng/Bladed-Beowulf.pdf.

Los Alamos National Laboratory is operated by the University of California for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) of the U.S. Department of Energy and works in partnership with NNSA's Sandia and Lawrence Livermore national laboratories to support NNSA in its mission.

Los Alamos enhances global security by ensuring safety and confidence in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, developing technologies to reduce threats from weapons of mass destruction and improving the environmental and nuclear materials legacy of the cold war. Los Alamos' capabilities assist the nation in addressing energy, environment, infrastructure and biological security problems.

For more Los Alamos news releases, visit www.lanl.gov.


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