IBM Ships First Water-Cooled Supercomputer

The Bluefire system will be installed at the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The first of a new generation of IBM supercomputers that use water for cooling is on its way to Colorado for use within the National Center for Atmospheric Research.

The supercomputer-Bluefire-will replace three older systems at the NCAR's facility in Boulder in August when the machine goes online for the first time. At its peak, bluefire will offer 76 teraflops (or 76 trillion calculations per second) of performance, outpacing the three older systems, which offered a combined performance of 20 teraflops.

What makes the bluefire system important is that it's the first time IBM is using its new Power 575 Hydro-Cluster system within a supercomputer installation. The company announced the Power 575 in April as a new way to tackle the power and cooling issues within the field of high-performance computing (HPC).

While other systems use air to cool the racks, the Power 575 uses water. IBM engineered the 575 to bring water to each of the individual processors within the system. The machine is set up with a grid overlay, with water-chilled copper plates placed above each processor. The cooling system absorbs the heat and then removes the water and heat from the rack.

This type of cooling design was necessary considering that IBM is using its latest Power 6 processors, which offer up to 4.7 GHz clock speeds, within the supercomputer. With the processors running at such a heightened clock speed, IBM had to look at other methods to cool the system.

At the NCAR facility, the Bluefire system will use 4,064 processors crammed into 127 nodes-each node holds 32 processors-along with 12 terabytes of memory and 150 terabytes of FAST DS4800 hard-disk capacity.

NCAR researchers plan to use the new supercomputer to create a series of new weather models to study the affects of climate change, changing rain patterns and drought on the Earth. In addition, scientists at the research facility are working on the next report for the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and the United Nations and researchers will use the data gathered from the Bluefire system within that study.

The IPCC came to prominence in 2007, when the panel shared the Nobel Prize with Al Gore for its work on climate change.
The announcement from IBM and NCAR comes at the end of a banner week for the supercomputer industry. On May 7, SGI and Intel announced that both companies would work with NASA to create a new supercomputer capable of breaking the petaflop mark or one quadrillion calculations per second.

The petaflop mark is the next great milestone for supercomputers and the field of high-performance computing. A number of companies, including SGI, Cray, IBM and Sun Microsystems, are each rushing toward creating machines capable of a petaflop or more of performance, and the first of these machines could make the Top 500 list later this year.

In addition to the IBM and SGI announcements, Dell and Purdue University combined their efforts on May 6 to build a new supercomputer called "Steele" on the school's campus. That machine offers a peak performance of 60 teraflops.