An innovative cooling design for SuperMUC, Europe's most powerful supercomputer, will use warm water instead of air to keep tens of thousands of microprocessors at the optimal operating speed and increase peak performance. The system, which is said to cool components 4,000 times more efficiently, will also warm the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre Campus that hosts it during the winter months, generating expected savings of up to US$1.25 million per year.

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. The figure may be even more taxing considering that SuperMUC will be hosted in Germany, a country that, starting from this year, requires all the electricity consumed by state-funded institutions to come from 100 percent sustainable energy sources.

The innovative cooling technology developed by IBM will help address this problem. Using a design inspired by the circulatory system, it transports water as warm as 45 degrees Celsius (113° F) directly to processors and memory components. The system is 10 times as compact and consumes 40 percent less energy than a comparable air-cooled system.

According to the recently revised Top500 list, SuperMUC's impressive 18,000 energy-efficient Intel Xeon processors make it Europe's fastest supercomputer, clocking 3 petaflops (3 million billion floating point operations per second). That's a long way from the new number one on the list - the IBM Sequoia, which is seven times as fast - but with a performance comparable to that of 100,000 personal computers put together, SuperMUC isn't exactly slow, either.

This impressive number-crunching capacity will be used to aid a number of research projects across Europe, ranging from simulating the blood flow generated by an artificial heart valve to improving our understanding of earthquakes. The SuperMUC system is also connected to powerful visualization systems, including a large stereoscopic power wall and a five-sided immersive artificial virtual-reality environment for visualizing three-dimensional data sets.

The engineering team behind the project is targeting an aggressive reduction in size, saying they can reduce the volume tenfold every five years until, 30 years from now, the entire processing power of the data center will be contained in a form factor the size of a standard desktop computer, with a much higher energy efficiency than it has today.

The project is jointly funded by the German federal government and the state of Bavaria. SuperMUC will be officially inaugurated in July 2012 at the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre in Garching, Germany. The video below explains more about the cooling mechanism.

Source: IBM