supower computing – the new challenge…

Super computing — and high performance computing, in general — meant building systems that can run faster and faster. Usually the criteria is something like FLOPS – number of floating point instructions per second. The world’s best supercomputer has hit a petaflop already (top500.org), with just a few in that range. India is also trying to reach there – with the CDAC Param Yuva currently reporting 50+ teraflop. This is a race that is visible, and exciting. But that is not my point.

For small PCs and the like, we never seriously worry about the power consumption. We dont mind if we leave it open during day, night, holidays, etc. But the supercomputing monstors we are seeing today, and we are expecting to see soon, are a different game. Spread across thousands of sq feet area, with thousands and lakhs of CPUs and storage units, they are huge power guzzlers. A petaflop system may need something like 20-30 MW — a full power plant will be needed for one machine. Even the Param system is reported to use up 600KW at its peak.

This means many things.

  1. getting that kind of power is not easy, given the power shortage facing most nations. So how to reduce the power needs and still reach high performance. Multicore showed one beautiful way. But more ideas are needed. Reduced need for AC, better circulation of cold air,  better materials for cabinet and the like, etc.  Other interesting threads include power-aware scheduling, partial shutdown of parts of the system based on anticipated load, and the like.
  2. that much power means huge cooling requirement. Better heat dissipation on board, better cooling mechanism, etc.
  3. this also means the supercomputer making is no longer a task of building computing machines, but a lot of other things. These monsters need fairly large infrastructure — full buildings, power units, and the like — bringing its own design and maintenance challenges. How to speed up your computation may be just a small part of the work profile!
  4. these monsters are expected to contain literally lacks of individual cores/machines. Autonomous management including fault prediction, maintenance, repair, error handling, etc will form a major research challenge.

If we could tap the energy dissipated by frustrated computer users across the world in pulling their hair, kicking the cabinet, etc may be we may have partially solved the power problem. As a side effect, the user satisfaction may also increase! It is like the idea that I had floated of making all the gyms into powerplants. All the calories that people burn there can be converted into power using a suitable technology. With the increasing fascination with 6-packs and size-zero, we may have the gyms in an area meeting the local power requirement of the area, and perhaps even supplying power to other ‘not-so-health-consdious’ parts of the country.

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5 Responses to “supower computing – the new challenge…”

  1. selva Says:

    It is like the idea that I had floated of making all the gyms into powerplants. All the calories that people burn there can be converted into power using a suitable technology. With the increasing fascination with 6-packs and size-zero, we may have the gyms in an area meeting the local power requirement of the area, and perhaps even supplying power to other ‘not-so-health-consdious’ parts of the country.

    Excellent idea…

    You should try to follow it up with a pilot with a gym which has high volume of people turnover.

  2. Jojumon Kavalan Says:

    A correction – India had reached ~180 TF peak (~120 TF sustained) 3 years back, fourth fastest then.

    – Joju

  3. Jesso Says:

    How did CDAC drop so behind after a heady start? We are now not at the top even in India 😦

  4. Jesso Says:

    in supercomputers… previous comment was pretty vague.

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