ABB Upgrades Produce Up to 30 Percent Energy Reduction for HPE Supercomputers

By Oliver Peckham

June 6, 2020

The world’s supercomputers are currently allied in a common goal: defeating COVID-19. To analyze the billions upon billions of molecules that might produce helpful therapeutics (or even a vaccine), an unimaginable amount of supercomputing power is necessary – and for that supercomputing power, a massive amount of power. Apart from imposing substantial financial and environmental costs, energy constraints can bottleneck supercomputer output, reducing the utility of these titanic – and currently, very necessary – machines. Now, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and electronics and manufacturing firm ABB have partnered to reduce the energy consumption of these systems using innovative rectifiers and other power-conserving hardware.

In simple terms, a rectifier is a power supply that converts alternating current to direct current. ABB supplied a hot-swappable 12.5-kilowatt rectifier with 96 percent energy efficiency. The rectifiers’ liquid cooling systems use dripless connectors to integrate directly with the liquid cooling systems serving HPE’s Cray supercomputer cabinets, protecting the equipment from the possibility of water damage during installation or maintenance. 

The real benefit of the rectifiers is smart power management: according to ABB, the rectifiers can “connect to, communicate and engage with” the supercomputer, allowing the host system to instruct the rectifiers when to increase or decrease power based on the supercomputer’s workload, helping to maintain peak efficiency regardless of supercomputer activity. ABB also claims that the rectifiers can provide more than 100 percent of the systems’ rated power capacity “in some situations.” ABB also supplied board-mounted DC converter modules that regulate the voltage delivered to the processors based on demand. 

The monitoring components of the power conservation setup make use of HPE’s proprietary firmware management tool, Integrated Lights Out (ILO), which offers power and thermal monitors on key components of the systems. ILO integrates with other tools, like HPE OneView, InfoSight, ABB Ability Data Center Automation and others, allowing system operators to view those metrics on their platform of choice.

“These insights allow users to increase utilization, avoid overprovisioning and minimize data center cooling to actual heat generation, which avoids overcooling and the associated energy consumption,” said Wellise. “That is where integrating HPE’s iLO and OneView software capabilities at the server level with ABB Ability Data Center Automation, ABB’s industrial solution for on-premise and hybrid cloud environments, becomes interesting.”

ABB claims that this power-conscious hardware decreases power losses by up to 95 percent. These energy savings are at least partially due to the Cray systems’ 190-volt output; with a more traditional 380-volt setup, ABB says, the same savings would not be financially or environmentally feasible. Combined with the IT solutions, HPE and ABB achieved an energy use reduction of up to 30 percent, saving an average of around $340,000 in cooling costs per thousand square meters. Beyond the energy reduction, ABB highlighted other sustainability benefits – with the use of high-voltage direct current, for instance, copper – a very carbon-intensive and non-biodegradable mineral – is much less necessary for power infrastructure and can be reduced fourteen-fold. 

“To get an idea how important power efficiency is for system energy savings, consider this: each power cabinet typically contains 24 rectifiers, and there can be anywhere from 50 to more than 100 cabinets in use for each supercomputer,” said Peter Raadsen, leader of the Embedded Power product line at ABB. “When you start multiplying rectifier efficiency by the number of cabinets and rectifiers per cabinet, the impact is quite significant.”

For HPE and ABB, which are in the third year of their strategic partnership, this is part of a continued focus on sustainability, even as systems demand more and more energy and produce larger carbon footprints than ever.

“We need to be able to do more computing with fewer resources and energy inputs,” said Christopher Wellise, HPE’s Chief Sustainability Officer. “At HPE, we are working to accelerate toward the circular economy, and part of that is innovating technologies that overcome energy and resource constraints.”

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