Category Archives: green computing

Images of Eurora, the world’s greenest supercomputer

Yesterday I was in Bologna for the press launch of Eurora at Cineca, a non-profit consortium of universities and other public bodies. The claim is that Eurora is the world’s greenest supercomputer.

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Eurora is a prototype deployment of Aurora Tigon, made by Eurotech. It is a hybrid supercomputer, with 128 CPUs supplemented by 128 NVidia Kepler K20 GPUs.

What makes it green? Of course, being new is good, as processor efficiency improves with every release, and “green-ness” is measured in floating point operations per watt. Eurora does 3150 Mflop/s per watt.

There is more though. Eurotech is a believer in water cooling, which is more efficient than air. Further, it is easier to do something useful with the hot water you generate than with hot air, such as generating energy.

Other factors include underclocking slightly, and supplying 48 volt DC power in order to avoid power conversion steps.

Eurora is composed of 64 nodes. Each node has a board with 2 Intel Xeon E5-2687W CPUs, an Altera Stratix V FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array), an SSD drive, and RAM soldered to the board; apparently soldering the RAM is more efficient than using DIMMs.

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Here is the FPGA:

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and one of the Intel-confidential CPUs:

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On top of this board goes a water-cooled metal block. This presses against the CPU and other components for efficient heat exchange. There is no fan.

Then on top of that go the K20 GPU accelerator boards. The design means that these can be changed for Intel Xeon Phi accelerator boards. Eurotech is neutral in the NVidia vs Intel accelerator wars.

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Here you can see where the water enters and leaves the heatsink. When you plug a node into the rack, you connect it to the plumbing as well as the electrics.

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Here are 8 nodes in a rack.

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Under the floor is a whole lot more plumbing. This is inside the Aurora cabinet where pipes and wires rise from the floor.

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Here is a look under the floor outside the cabinet.

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while at the corner of the room is a sort of pump room that pumps the water, monitors the system, adds chemicals to prevent algae from growing, and no doubt a few other things.

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The press was asked NOT to operate this big red switch:

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I am not sure whether the switch we were not meant to operate is the upper red button, or the lower red lever. To be on the safe side, I left them both as-is.

So here is a thought. Apparently Eurora is 15 times more energy-efficient than a typical desktop. If the mobile revolution continues and we all use tablets, which also tend to be relatively energy-efficient, could we save substantial energy by using the cloud when we need more grunt (whether processing or video) than a tablet can provide?

Should you swap your laptop hard drive for an SSD?

I’ve just been briefed by Kingston on the merits of its SSD Drives. Sandisk also has a range. Solid-state storage, capacity typically 128GB but larger is possible, lower power consumption (so longer battery life), better reliability (nearly drop-proof), and faster.

Kingston gave a demo showing how an SSD-equipped Toshiba laptop booted more quickly and processed images faster than an allegedly identical model with a conventional hard drive.

The company will be providing bundles that make it easy to switch. You get a USB case into which you insert your new SSD drive. Run the supplied cloning software, unscrew the drive flap on the laptop and swap the drives. Worth doing?

It strikes me as worth considering, but there are a couple of snags. One is cost and capacity – your SSD drive will be more expensive and store less than the old rotating type. That could change – but beware betting against hard drives, they are one of IT’s great survivors.

The other snag is that although SSD drives apparently score better on reliability – what the industry measures as MTBF or Mean Time Before Failure – they have a special bad habit of their own, which is that capacity gradually reduces as they wear.

What happens is that as cells wear out, the clever firmware remaps them to good cells, ensuring that your data is safe, but reducing the capacity.

The one “errm I’ll get back to you on that” moment comes when I ask what might be the normal expectation, in terms of how rapidly capacity reduces with normal usage. It is determined by how many writes you make; clearly it helps to have generous RAM in order to reduce the usage of temporary files.

The man from Kingston also revealed that some SSD drives have hidden reserves. For example, 10% extra capacity might be unavailable for use initially, but swapped in as it is needed. This hides the problem for a while, but does not cure it.

Still, you would think that SSD will win out in the end, as capacity improves and cost comes down. Further, if your main concern is how long the battery lasts on your train journeys and transatlantic flights, SSD is definitely worth a look. Many netbooks come with SSD as standard – the first device I had which uses them was an Asus Eee PC.

Mobile phone wastage

According to a release today from Moneysupermarket.com, promoting its recycling service, two-thirds of us (in the UK) don’t recycle old handsets. The worrying aspect of this is that handsets include some nasty chemicals (mostly in batteries) which should be disposed of safely. Many people either don’t know or don’t care about the regulations and throw old phones in the bin, whereupon they end up in landfill. Of course you could say the same about laptops, iPods, shavers, and no end of other electronic devices with rechargeable batteries. Moneysupermarket.com made a model out of old phones to make the point (that’s London’s Post Office Tower in the background):

I am not sure about the recycling service – you might do better on eBay, except for worthless old devices. Still, I do think this is a problem that should be addressed. I hate the casual manner in which we chuck poison into landfill, risking it finding its way into the foodchain. A good start would be to regulate against the business model of the major telecom providers, which subsidises the hardware thus encouraging users to change their devices long before they are really worn out.

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