Green500 Turns Blue

By Michael Feldman

July 5, 2012

The latest Green500 rankings were announced last week, revealing that top performance and power efficiency can indeed go hand in hand. According to the latest list, the greenest machines, in fact the top 20 systems, were all IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputers. Blue Gene/Q, of course, is the platform that captured the number one spot on the latest TOP500 list, and is represented by four of the ten fastest supercomputers in the world.

Not only did Blue Gene/Q dominate the top of the Green500, but did so in commanding fashion. Although the smaller Q machines tended be slightly more energy efficient, all 20 delivered more than 2,000 megaflops/watt. That turned out to be about twice as efficient as the average for the next 20 supercomputers on the list.

Of those following 20 systems, 10 are accelerator-based. In fact, the 21st and 22nd most efficient supercomputers are the Intel MIC-accelerated prototype cluster (1380.67 megaflops/watt) and the ATI Radeon-equipped DEGIMA cluster (1379.79 megaflops/per watt). The remainder all use NVIDIA GPU parts and are only somewhat less power-efficient.

It’s hard to draw a lot of conclusions about the efficiency of accelerator-equipped machines, since the ratio between the more energy-efficient GPUs (or MIC coprocessors) and the CPUs on these machines has a big impact on the overall results. In other words, a high GPU:CPU ratio system would tend to be yield more megaflops/watt than one with a lower ratio. Further, the current crop of accelerator-based systems tend to yield sub-par Linpack performance (the basis of both the TOP500 and Green500 results) compared to the machine’s peak performance, although this “bias” does point out that it can be difficult to extract performance and performance per watt from these heterogeneous platforms.

A number of x86 CPU-only systems, especially those employing the latest Intel “Sandy Bridge” processors, did rather well the latest rankings. In this category is the new 2.9 petaflop SuperMUC machine that just booted up at Germany’s Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) . This IBM iDataPlex cluster sits at number 4 on the TOP500 list and manages a very respectable number 39 placement on the Green500. The system uses an innovative hot-water cooling system that not only saves energy costs, but whose waste heat is repurposed for local use at the LRZ facility. The machine also employs system software that is designed to optimize energy consumption.

The other instructive lesson of SuperMUC is that institutions are willing to endure relatively high energy costs to get leading-edge performance. (SuperMUC is currently the speediest supercomputer in Europe.) Even though its innovative cooling system will supposedly save around a million Euros per year, in energy costs, the high price of electricity in Germany will still make SuperMUC the most expensive supercomputer in Europe to operate.

According to Arndt Bode, LRZ’s chairman of the board who spoke about the new system at ISC’12, energy costs for them are rather steep — 0.158 €/kilowatt-hour as of 2010. That’s around 10 times the cost at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, perhaps the least expensive place to do supercomputing in the US, thanks in large part to cheap blocks of power that can be purchased from the Tennessee Valley Authority. Since SuperMUC consumes 3.4 megawatts, that means the Germans are paying for what an equivalent 34 megawatt system would cost the Oak Ridge boys today.

Considering that supercomputing designers have drawn a 20MW line in the sand for exascale systems, the Germans, in effect, have already resigned themselves to that level of cost. Of course, not everyone is going to be able to plop their exascale systems in the Tennessee Valley (or at other cheap energy locales like Iceland). And energy prices are likely to rise between now and the end of the decade, almost everywhere. But 20MW or more (maybe significantly more) is doable for at least some geographies today, assuming the HPC funding and political will is there.

Anyway you look at it, exaflops-level supercomputing is going to be an expensive proposition, at least initially. The average price of a megawatt in the US is a million dollars per year, and even at Oak Ridge, it probably costs between $200 to $300 thousand. That’s plenty of motivation to reduce the energy footprint of these machines.

Which brings us back to Blue Gene/Q. The largest such system today, the number one Sequoia machine at Lawrence Livermore, delivers 20 (peak) petaflops and draws 7.9MW when it’s running floating-point heavy codes like Linpack. But it would need to be 50 times more powerful to get to an exaflop and would also have to be 25 times as energy-efficient to squeeze such a machine into 20MW.

IBM appears to be on the right track here though, at least from the processor standpoint. Unlike a conventional x86-based HPC cluster, Blue Gene Q is powered by a custom SoC based on the PowerPC A2 core. That processor merges the network and compute on-chip, and is designed as a low-power, high throughput, and high core count (16) architecture. Clock frequency is a modest 1.6 GHz, which is about half that of a top bin Xeon. All exascale processors are likely to follow this general design.

It’s not all up to the processor, however. Memory and system network components will also need analogous redesigns to address their own power issues for exascale. By the way, it would be instructive if the Green500 could expand its mandate and develop useful performance per watt metrics aimed at main memory and interconnects. Linpack is a notoriously bad measurement for data movement, which has become the limiting factor for many applications, “big data” and otherwise. A starting point might be to incorporate the Graph 500 results into a separate set of Green500 rankings.

In the meantime, the list is drawing some much-needed attention to HPC power issues. And competition for those top Green500 spots is going to heat up. In the absence of a Blue Gene/R follow-on — and at this point, IBM has kept mum about extending the BG franchise — there is likely to be some stiff competition from machines powered by the upcoming NVIDIA Kepler K20 GPUs and Intel MIC coprocessors, and their successors. AMD APU-based systems might show up in a couple of years, and the newer SPARC64 offerings from Fujitsu or Chinese systems based on domestically designed chips like Godson may make their presence felt as well. The green revolution in HPC is just beginning.

Related Articles

TOP500 Gets Dressed Up with New Blue Genes

HPC Lists We’d Like to See

IBM Specs Out Blue Gene/Q Chip

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Nvidia Touts Strong Results on Financial Services Inference Benchmark

February 3, 2023

The next-gen Hopper family may be on its way, but that isn’t stopping Nvidia’s popular A100 GPU from leading another benchmark on its way out. This time, it’s the STAC-ML inference benchmark, produced by the Securi Read more…

Quantum Computing Firm Rigetti Faces Delisting

February 3, 2023

Quantum computing companies are seeing their market caps crumble as investors patiently await out the winner-take-all approach to technology development. Quantum computing firms such as Rigetti Computing, IonQ and D-Wave went public through mergers with blank-check companies in the last two years, with valuations at the time of well over $1 billion. Now the market capitalization of these companies are less than half... Read more…

US and India Strengthen HPC, Quantum Ties Amid Tech Tension with China

February 2, 2023

Last May, the United States and India announced the “Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology” (iCET), aimed at expanding the countries’ partnerships in strategic technologies and defense industries across th Read more…

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Enables Transparent Medicare Outcome AI

February 2, 2023

Medical applications of AI are replete with promise, but stymied by opacity: with lives on the line, concerns over AI models’ often-inscrutable reasoning – and as a result, possible biases embedded in those models Read more…

Europe’s LUMI Supercomputer Has Officially Been Accepted

February 1, 2023

“LUMI is officially here!” proclaimed the headline of a blog post written by Pekka Manninen, director of science and technology for CSC, Finland’s state-owned IT center. The EuroHPC-organized supercomputer’s most Read more…

AWS Solution Channel

Shutterstock 2069893598

Cost-effective and accurate genomics analysis with Sentieon on AWS

This blog post was contributed by Don Freed, Senior Bioinformatics Scientist, and Brendan Gallagher, Head of Business Development at Sentieon; and Olivia Choudhury, PhD, Senior Partner Solutions Architect, Sujaya Srinivasan, Genomics Solutions Architect, and Aniket Deshpande, Senior Specialist, HPC HCLS at AWS. Read more…

Microsoft/NVIDIA Solution Channel

Shutterstock 1453953692

Microsoft and NVIDIA Experts Talk AI Infrastructure

As AI emerges as a crucial tool in so many sectors, it’s clear that the need for optimized AI infrastructure is growing. Going beyond just GPU-based clusters, cloud infrastructure that provides low-latency, high-bandwidth interconnects and high-performance storage can help organizations handle AI workloads more efficiently and produce faster results. Read more…

Intel’s Gaudi3 AI Chip Survives Axe, Successor May Combine with GPUs

February 1, 2023

Intel's paring projects and products amid financial struggles, but AI products are taking on a major role as the company tweaks its chip roadmap to account for more computing specifically targeted at artificial intellige Read more…

Quantum Computing Firm Rigetti Faces Delisting

February 3, 2023

Quantum computing companies are seeing their market caps crumble as investors patiently await out the winner-take-all approach to technology development. Quantum computing firms such as Rigetti Computing, IonQ and D-Wave went public through mergers with blank-check companies in the last two years, with valuations at the time of well over $1 billion. Now the market capitalization of these companies are less than half... Read more…

US and India Strengthen HPC, Quantum Ties Amid Tech Tension with China

February 2, 2023

Last May, the United States and India announced the “Initiative on Critical and Emerging Technology” (iCET), aimed at expanding the countries’ partnership Read more…

Intel’s Gaudi3 AI Chip Survives Axe, Successor May Combine with GPUs

February 1, 2023

Intel's paring projects and products amid financial struggles, but AI products are taking on a major role as the company tweaks its chip roadmap to account for Read more…

Roadmap for Building a US National AI Research Resource Released

January 31, 2023

Last week the National AI Research Resource (NAIRR) Task Force released its final report and roadmap for building a national AI infrastructure to include comput Read more…

PFAS Regulations, 3M Exit to Impact Two-Phase Cooling in HPC

January 27, 2023

Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), known as “forever chemicals,” pose a number of health risks to humans, with more suspected but not yet confirmed Read more…

Multiverse, Pasqal, and Crédit Agricole Tout Progress Using Quantum Computing in FS

January 26, 2023

Europe-based quantum computing pioneers Multiverse Computing and Pasqal, and global bank Crédit Agricole CIB today announced successful conclusion of a 1.5-yea Read more…

Critics Don’t Want Politicians Deciding the Future of Semiconductors

January 26, 2023

The future of the semiconductor industry was partially being decided last week by a mix of politicians, policy hawks and chip industry executives jockeying for Read more…

Riken Plans ‘Virtual Fugaku’ on AWS

January 26, 2023

The development of a national flagship supercomputer aimed at exascale computing continues to be a heated competition, especially in the United States, the Euro Read more…

Leading Solution Providers

Contributors

SC22 Booth Videos

AMD @ SC22
Altair @ SC22
AWS @ SC22
Ayar Labs @ SC22
CoolIT @ SC22
Cornelis Networks @ SC22
DDN @ SC22
Dell Technologies @ SC22
HPE @ SC22
Intel @ SC22
Intelligent Light @ SC22
Lancium @ SC22
Lenovo @ SC22
Microsoft and NVIDIA @ SC22
One Stop Systems @ SC22
Penguin Solutions @ SC22
QCT @ SC22
Supermicro @ SC22
Tuxera @ SC22
Tyan Computer @ SC22
  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
HPCwire