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Supercomputer Cools Off Using Groundwater

Novel cooling system turns normal groundwater into big savings for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which is running a new 162 teraflop supercomputer, Olympus.

The Department of Energy is no stranger to supercomputers, and its Pacific Northwest National Lab has proven that it can continue to be an innovator in the field by using what the lab terms a "unique" groundwater-fed cooling system in the lab's newest supercomputer, Olympus.

The novel cooling system translates normal groundwater into big savings for the new 162 teraflop supercomputer, which is being used in energy, chemical, and fluid dynamics research.

Most supercomputers rely on air conditioning or chilled water to cool powerful computing clusters. Olympus' system, on the other hand, uses 65-degree groundwater. The water is fed into a closed loop of water pipes that absorb the heat created by the machine's powerful computing capacity. Some of that tech is supplied as part of Motivair's Chilled Door High Density Rack Cooling System.

[ Learn more about government supercomputers. Feds Detail Supercomputing's Future. ]

That setup translates into 70% less energy use than traditionally cooled systems, which add up to $61,000 in annual cooling costs. "We don't need mechanical cooling, don't have any chillers, and are doing the cooling relatively close to the source of the heat," Kevin Regimbal, director of institutional computing at Pacific Northwest, said, rattling off the reasons for the savings. "We're cooling for the cost of moving water around."

Olympus is currently being used to research future power grid infrastructure and better battery design. It will also be used to improve the resolution of complex, large-scale chemistry problems and to improve simulations of water and contaminants underground.

Olympus has a peak processing speed of 162 teraflops, can write information to disk about 800 times faster than a normal PC, has 38.7 terabytes of RAM and 4 petabytes of disk space, and is powered by 1,200 dual AMD Interlagos 16-core processors. Olympus is Pacific Northwest's second supercomputer at the 162 teraflop scale, the other being a two-year old supercomputer named Chinook.

In the past, researchers at the lab relied more on smaller computer systems for specific project needs, rather than on an all-purpose supercomputer. Olympus was designed with the thinking that scientists needed a consistent hardware and software platform to make it easier for them to begin and scale their scientific computing work. Regimbal says that the hope is that it will accelerate the lab's scientific publications.

Olympus is housed in the lab's 10,000 square foot Computational Sciences Facility, which opened in 2009. While the groundwater-fed cooling system is currently only used with Olympus (the rest of the data center is cooled by more traditional means), Regimbal says that the lab has thus far been pleased with the results, and is considering expanding the new cooling system's footprint going forward.

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