NASA Saves Energy, Water with Modular Supercomputer

The supercomputer at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, CA, is using an innovative modular approach that is designed to get researchers the answers that they need, while reducing the high level of energy and water traditionally required for these cutting edge machines.

Scientific Computing lays out the issue: All of today’s modern supercomputers must be optimised in some way for energy efficiency because of the huge power consumption of large supercomputers. The Top500 is a prime example of this. Each of the top 10 systems consumes megawatts of power, with the very largest consuming in excess of 15 megawatts.

The NASA system, called Electra, is expected to save 1 million kWh and 1.3 million gallons of water annually by virtue of its modular construction. Computing assets are added – and thus need to be cooled – only as necessary. The system, according to the story at Scientific Computing, is designed to work within a power usage effectiveness (PUE) range of 1.03 to 1.05. The current lead supercomputer for NASA, Pleaides, runs a PUE of about 1.3.

Space Daily describes Electra’s flexibility. The story says that NASA is considering an expansion to 16 times its current capacity. Some of the energy benefits are indirect: Since researchers can log in remotely to utilize Electra, pressure will be taken off the supercomputers those scientists and engineers would otherwise access. Thus, the overall benefit to the environment is a bit hidden – but there nonetheless.

Electra is expected to provide 280 million hours of computing time annually and currently is 39th on the U.S. TOP500 list of computer systems, according to Space Daily (Scientific Computing says Pleaides is 13th.) The modular super computer center at Ames was built and installed by SGI/CommScope and is managed by the NASA Advanced Supercomputing Division.

Modular datacenters use the same basic approach to reduce energy use.