NREL’s Supercomputer Debuts New Technology

By Richard L. Brandt

March 13, 2013

Here’s an interesting dilemma: What if you were awarded millions of dollars to build a new, state-of-the-art, 1-petaflops supercomputer, but had no place to put it?

That’s the situation that the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) faced a few years ago. Congress appropriated money for NREL to order a new supercomputer system, but its existing datacenter was too small to hold it.

NREL’s solution: It began working on a new energy-efficient datacenter, one designed to be cheaper to build and operate than comparable datacenters. At the same time, it pooled some money with Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, NM, in order to jointly purchase a 500 teraflops system. The labs installed that system in the Sandia datacenter, and both organizations have access to it until NREL’s datacenter is fully equipped.

NREL then requisitioned its new computer from HP.

The whole process is now coming to completion. The new datacenter is largely done. The first phase of the new computer system has been installed and tested. Delivery of phase two – the 1-petaflops system – is about to begin.

It’s just in time. The shared computer at Sandia, a Red Mesa system from Sun’s pre-Oracle days, is no longer sufficient to serve both labs’ needs. It is averaging 92 percent utilization, day in and day out.

Despite the time it took, there were advantages to this approach. HP is sending NREL some new, still-unnamed servers that not only include some of the the latest Intel Xeon processors and Xeon Phi co-processors, but also a new warm-water liquid cooling system that HP has not yet unveiled to the public.

NREL was also able to essentially design a datacenter around its new computer system in order to create an integrated whole. The cooling system, for example, makes compressor-based chillers unnecessary. The servers use 480 VAC power, which eliminates power converters. Less equipment means more space, enabling the servers to be packed into just 10,000 square feet of raised floor space. Warm-water cooling means most of the servers do not require hot and cold aisle containment. The hot water can be used to heat the building or melt snow.

“Taking this integrated look at a datacenter from an energy efficient building perspective drove a lot of the decisions we made,” says NREL Computational Science Center Director Steve Hammond. “Otherwise you could make locally-optimized decisions that are not as efficient as they could be if you stepped back” to see the big picture.

The first racks of the new system were delivered last November, right after SC12. More arrived in early January. The final four racks (out of 10 total) arrived on February 19. Most of the equipment consists of HP ProLiant SL230s and SL250s Gen8 servers powered by Intel Xeon E5-2670 8-core CPUs. This is the Sandy Bridge generation, using 32nm technology.

However, those last four racks each contain something new. They hold prototypes of a next-generation server family that HP will be introducing to the rest of the world next year. This new server uses next-generation Intel Xeon Ivy Bridge processors and Intel Xeon Phi coprocessors, both built on 22nm technology.

These servers also feature HP’s prototype direct-to-chip warm-water liquid cooling system. “The primary heat exchange is at the chip level, with heat going (directly) to liquid rather than going to air first and then liquid,” says NREL’s Hammond. Water will arrive at the servers at about 75 degrees Fahrenheit and leave at about 100 degrees F.

The combination of the ProLiant servers and the new prototypes comprise phase one, consisting of about 11,500 cores in 10 compute racks. That system reached over 200 teraflops on LINPACK tests last month, meeting its intermediate performance milestone.

The real show, however, comes with phase two. That’s a 1-petaflops system made up entirely of HP’s new servers, including the new cooling system. These are the first production versions HP is delivering to a customer. They should start arriving from Houston by early summer and will be standing in the datacenter before the end of August.

To say this is a showcase datacenter is an understatement. It has has floor-to-ceiling glass windows to allow visitors to look in from the corridors. “People say it looks more like an aquarium than a datacenter,” says Hammond. Part of the idea is to show off its energy efficiency for others interested in saving energy and money.

Hammond is hoping, however, that the datacenter-under-glass doesn’t become too popular a display. He’s already regularly guiding visitors past the aquarium, despite the fact that the main system is not yet installed. He needs to get some work done.

Related articles

Heat-Trapping and NREL’s Green Datacenter Leadership Effort

HP, Intel Score Petaflop Supercomputer at DOE Lab

National Renewable Energy Laboratory Selects HP, Intel to Provide HPC Cluster

Asetek to Convert Air-Cooled DoD Datacenter To Direct-To-Chip Liquid-Cooling Technology

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!

China’s Expanding Effort to Win in Microchips

July 27, 2017

The global battle for preeminence, or at least national independence, in semiconductor technology and manufacturing continues to heat up with Europe, China, Japan, and the U.S. all vying for sway. A fascinating article ( Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion: Storage to Lead HPC Growth in 2016-2021

July 27, 2017

Global HPC external storage revenues will grow 7.8% over the 2016-2021 timeframe according to an updated forecast released by Hyperion Research this week. HPC server sales, by comparison, will grow a modest 5.8% to $14.8 Read more…

By John Russell

Exascale FY18 Budget – The Senate Provides Their Input

July 27, 2017

In the federal budgeting world, “regular order” is a meaningful term that is fondly remembered by members of both the Congress and the Executive Branch. Regular order is the established process whereby an Administrat Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPE Servers Deliver High Performance Remote Visualization

Whether generating seismic simulations, locating new productive oil reservoirs, or constructing complex models of the earth’s subsurface, energy, oil, and gas (EO&G) is a highly data-driven industry. Read more…

India Plots Three-Phase Indigenous Supercomputing Strategy

July 26, 2017

Additional details on India's plans to stand up an indigenous supercomputer came to light earlier this week. As reported in the Indian press, the Rs 4,500-crore (~$675 million) supercomputing project, approved by the Ind Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Exascale FY18 Budget – The Senate Provides Their Input

July 27, 2017

In the federal budgeting world, “regular order” is a meaningful term that is fondly remembered by members of both the Congress and the Executive Branch. Reg Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

India Plots Three-Phase Indigenous Supercomputing Strategy

July 26, 2017

Additional details on India's plans to stand up an indigenous supercomputer came to light earlier this week. As reported in the Indian press, the Rs 4,500-crore Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tuning InfiniBand Interconnects Using Congestion Control

July 26, 2017

InfiniBand is among the most common and well-known cluster interconnect technologies. However, the complexities of an InfiniBand (IB) network can frustrate the Read more…

By Adam Dorsey

NSF Project Sets Up First Machine Learning Cyberinfrastructure – CHASE-CI

July 25, 2017

Earlier this month, the National Science Foundation issued a $1 million grant to Larry Smarr, director of Calit2, and a group of his colleagues to create a comm Read more…

By John Russell

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fujitsu Continues HPC, AI Push

July 19, 2017

Summer is well under way, but the so-called summertime slowdown, linked with hot temperatures and longer vacations, does not seem to have impacted Fujitsu's out Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Use DNA to Store and Retrieve Digital Movie

July 18, 2017

From abacus to pencil and paper to semiconductor chips, the technology of computing has always been an ever-changing target. The human brain is probably the com Read more…

By John Russell

The Exascale FY18 Budget – The Next Step

July 17, 2017

On July 12, 2017, the U.S. federal budget for its Exascale Computing Initiative (ECI) took its next step forward. On that day, the full Appropriations Committee Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Facebook Open Sources Caffe2; Nvidia, Intel Rush to Optimize

April 18, 2017

From its F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif., today, Facebook announced Caffe2, a new open-source, cross-platform framework for deep learning. Caffe2 is the successor to Caffe, the deep learning framework developed by Berkeley AI Research and community contributors. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This