IBM Turns on Water to Cool Supercomputer

IBM is using water instead of air to cool down its massive Power 575 supercomputer.

IBM is hoping a little water offers big improvements in cooling.

At an event in San Francisco April 8, IBM unveiled its latest Power 575 supercomputer that uses water instead of air to cool the system. The Power 575 is located on the company's Power6 processor with a clock speed of 4.7GHz. This meant the company had to find a different way to cool the high-performance computer that contained 448 processing cores within a single rack.

Instead of using air to cool the system, IBM engineers decided 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. This cooling system absorbs the heat and then removes the water and heat from the rack.

When compared to older air-cooled Power systems, IBM claimed the new water-cooled Power 575 can help reduce energy consumption within a data center by 40 percent. Joe Clabby, an analyst with Clabby Analytics, said that when it comes to cooling either one system or an entire data center, water is three times more effective in removing heat compared to air.

"When you have a processor running at that clock rate and it's running really fast, you need more than just air blowing on it to keep it cool and that's where this water solution comes in," said Clabby.

Within data centers, Clabby said many IT professionals and server vendors are increasingly exploring ways to use water and other liquids instead of air to cut down on heat and reduce the power bill.

To read about IBM taking top supercomputer honors, click here.

In a statement, IBM indicated that the Power 575 supercomputer cooling systems will eventually give way to a new method where a water-cooling system is embedded on the chip itself. Once the heat is captured, the water can be pumped out of the system and reused.

In addition to the cooling system, IBM made several improvements to the Power 575 system, which is a significant part of the company's overall high-performance computing division.

The company currently ranks number one on the Top 500 supercomputer list with the Blue Gene/L system at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

That current version of that Blue Gene/L system runs at 478.2 teraflops or 478.2 trillion calculations per second.

The Power 575 system is comprised of a series of racks that each contain 14, 2U (3.75-inch) nodes that hold 32 Power6 processing cores. Each of the cores runs at 4.7GHz and each node offers 600 gigaflops or 600 billion floating point calculations per second. Each rack also provides 3.5TB of memory.

IBM will sell the Power 575 with either its own AIX operating system-the company's version of a Unix OS-or with Linux. The system will be available in May.