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Supercomputers: 5 power facts you need to know

Posted: 20 Apr 2015 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Google? supercomputer? Tianhe-2? Cray-2?

Supercomputers are commonly used to predict the weather, model nuclear reactions and help develop new drugs, among other things. However, these immensely powerful machines need more power and storage space in order to perform these tasks.

Read on to find out a few cool things about their power systems you might not be aware of and amaze your geeky friends & family.

They use lots of power, and take up lots of space

OK, you might know this first one. But we're talking about some serious power and space here. Tianhe-2, the present top dog on the TOP500 list, which ranks machines by how fast they burn through the LINPACK benchmark, draws an eye-popping 17.8MW of power, enough to supply some 5100 homes, and sprawls over 720m2.


Tianhe-2: the world's fastest supercomputer (Source: cnmeonline)

What does it take to keep the lights on? For the No. 2 machine Titan, power is provided to each cabinet at 480V. This voltage requires thinner cables than the U.S. standard 208V, saving $1 million in copper. At its peak, the relatively parsimonious Titan draws a mere 8.2MW to 1.2MW more than Jaguar, its predecessor, but giving almost 10 times the floating point performance.

In the event of a power failure, carbon fibre flywheel power storage can keep the networking and storage infrastructure running for up to 16s. After 2s without power, diesel generators kick into action. They can provide power indefinitely, but are designed only to keep the networking and storage components powered so that a reboot is much quicker; the generators aren't capable of powering the processing infrastructure.

Cooling system design is key to success

Needless to say, at these power levels getting rid of the heat produced is also a major concern. Over the years, numerous approaches have been used. The Cray-2 was completely immersed in Fluorinert, an inert liquid, but liquid cooling with water is the current method of choice.

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