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December 2, 2013

Saving Energy with Supercomputing

David Craddock, High Performance Computing Wales
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Many Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs) across the UK and beyond are unaware that supercomputing can help them become more energy efficient.

With major energy suppliers recently announcing yet more price hikes, companies across all industries are feeling the pinch.

Three of the ‘big six’ British energy firms have increased their prices between eight and ten per cent on last year’s costs, and this rise could have a profound effect on the performance of SMEs across the country and beyond.

In addition, in our digital age, it is only a natural progression for businesses to increasingly boost their performance by using advanced software for data-intensive tasks such as advanced modeling and simulation, analysis of Big Data and the rendering of high-definition 3D graphics.

However, with the additional computational power, time and energy required to complete these demanding tasks, many businesses require further support to meet their customers‘ needs, and to help reduce their carbon footprint.

Many SMEs are unaware that this support could arrive in the form of supercomputing, also known as high performance computing. Often the belief is that access to supercomputing technology is limited to only the largest companies with the biggest spending power.

Although traditionally the preserve of blue chip companies and academia, SMEs can now benefit from access to supercomputing technology, training and support. The technology can significantly boost their output, while increasing their in-house energy efficiency.

So how can supercomputing help businesses achieve this?

Significant time savings

With the power of supercomputing, businesses can vastly reduce the time they spend on demanding data-intensive tasks, significantly reducing their power consumption.

One SME that has benefited from supercomputing support is Wales-based ThinkPlay.TV, an animation company founded in 2006. To date, its virtual animation work and media sets have featured on the likes of Playstation, Wii and Xbox games consoles and national UK television channels.

Typically, before the company used supercomputing, scenery would take eight hours for them to render in-house, giving them a maximum of two weeks to meet client deadlines. Furthermore, with only two desktops carrying out rendering for large periods of time, the co-founders were both unable to work on anything else.

Now, with the use of supercomputing technology, projects that would normally have taken days to complete, are finished in hours.

As work can be completed so much faster, it has helped the firm win bids for more projects, as well as significantly reducing the energy that it spends on in-house computing processes.

Remote access

Accessing supercomputing technology remotely can save businesses energy in a number of ways.

Firstly, they do not have to travel to access a supercomputing hub. This in itself presents energy savings to businesses. In addition, with remote access technology, businesses can benefit from high performance computing on their own desktop and laptop computers, without the need to continually update in-house technology.

As supercomputing dramatically increases the speed of computing processes, this will then free-up other on-site IT resources. Therefore, using supercomputing boosts companies’ overall IT capacity because all data and power intensive processing is taken off site. Doing so will also help to reduce business’ overall onsite energy consumption.

Remote access to high performance computing can also be provided ‘on demand’, so companies’ use is efficient and timely, and therefore energy and resources are not wasted on ‘idling time’ from machines.

A company directly benefiting from this remote access to supercomputing technology is Calon Cardio-Technology Ltd. The company is designing and developing the next generation of affordable, implantable micro blood pumps for the treatment of chronic heart failure.

Calon Cardio uses supercomputing to simulate the flow of the blood inside the pump. Prior to using supercomputing running just one case could take up to a week, whereas now that process can be shrunk to less than a day, or even a few hours.

Green data centre management

When considering a potential supercomputing provider, businesses should ensure that the supplier has invested in dedicated Data Centre Infrastructure Management software or DCIM. This allows providers to balance computing capacity, or power drawn, with the current IT load at the time. This means that when the load is low, providers can switch hardware into ‘low activity’ or ‘standby’ modes to save energy and its associated costs.

Companies should also be sure to confirm whether a provider’s servers are designed to automatically go into ‘idle’ or ‘deep sleep’ modes during longer periods of inactivity.

Ensuring that suppliers have engaged with these critical energy-saving facilities will help to ensure that savings are passed on to businesses, but also ensures that their carbon footprints remain as small as possible.

Final thoughts

It’s clear to see that supercomputing has a valuable role to play in boosting the competitive capability and energy efficiency of SMEs in a wide range of sectors. The UK Government’s current investment is testament to its perceived value to the future of British business.

This is down to the fact that supercomputing can reduce the time taken to complete data-intensive tasks, freeing up business’ IT systems to allow them to complete other tasks more easily.

This significant reduction in time-taken to complete tasks also results in increased energy-efficiency for SMEs, allowing them to reinvest this time and money into other aspects of service delivery for their customers.

Furthermore, by using a supercomputing provider that is already committed to saving energy, companies can also feel safe in the knowledge that their own commitments to green business practice remain intact.

How can businesses find out more about using supercomputing technology?

Whilst purchasing a dedicated supercomputer is clearly out of most small companies’ reach, there are now a number of providers in the UK offering companies access to supercomputing technology, training and support.

Supercomputing providers across the UK are increasing the level of support available, as they recognise that many businesses have no experience of using this technology. This means businesses don’t need any previous experience of supercomputing to enjoy its benefits.

About the Author

David Craddock is chief executive officer of HPC Wales. Prior to his appointment, David Craddock was Director of Enterprise and Collaborative Projects at Aberystwyth University, responsible for leading a team of over thirty and developing the enterprise strategy for the University. Working with the senior management team, David also led a number of change management programmes including business planning for the Aberystwyth/Bangor Partnership, and the merger of the BBSRC research funded institute IGER into the University. A BA (Hons) graduate from Middlesex University, David previously worked for two Unilever companies over a 23 year period, mainly in international marketing, product development and business development roles in the detergent and speciality chemicals markets. In addition, he has been Director of two SMEs in the technical textile and electrical engineering markets.