Liquid-cooled servers take next big step

Article Type: Feature          Published: 11-2013         Views: 2476   



Sheffield-based Iceotope, the environmental cooling specialist, has announced the installation of its next generation liquid-cooled servers inside the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center (PSNC) in Poland

Sheffield-based Iceotope, the environmental cooling specialist, has announced the installation of its next generation liquid-cooled servers inside the Poznan Supercomputing and Networking Center (PSNC) in Poland - a 3,200 sq ft colocation facility offering shared HPC (High Performance Computing) services to scientists, universities and researchers from around the world.

The installation is part of the European PRACE Research Project (Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe) and was completed in June 2013. Since then, the Iceotope and PRACE teams have been running the systems on 'turbo mode' and collecting data on its environmental performance, the results of which have the potential to substantially reduce the environmental footprint of supercomputing operations.

The PRACE research project is an international not-for-profit association set up to support high impact scientific discovery and engineering research, with a strong interest in reducing the environmental impact of computing systems. Iceotope is one of three winning participants in PRACE's new liquid cooling research project, which involves testing and comparing a variety of different liquid cooled solutions – with the aim of exploring their environmental benefits compared to traditional air cooling.

Iceotope was awarded the tender with PRACE, ahead of a rival bid from IBM, and has since installed 46 of its environmentally-friendly and high performance blade modules, alongside existing legacy air cooled servers. So far, the results for Iceotope have been impressive – with massive energy efficiency, operational, performance and utilisation benefits compared to traditional air cooled servers, and even other forms of liquid cooling.

With the ultimate objective of finding the most environmentally friendly computing systems, each system tested has been given a PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) figure as part of its overall environmental rating. Iceotope's 1.03 is on a par with Facebook and Google's industry leading data centre facilities and means that for every Kilowatt of energy that reaches the computer, 95% is available for computing with no losses for fans etc.

Developed by The Green Grid, PUE is a metric for measuring data centre efficiency by weighing a data centre's total power consumption against the energy delivered to the servers. A PUE of 1.0 would mean that 100 percent of the data centre's energy is powering the IT equipment and best practice PUE for the IT sector is around 1.5-8.

"At the PSNC, we are able to overclock the machines and still use minimal power resources for cooling; no easy feat, I can assure you," says Iceotope founder and CEO, Peter Hopton. "Typically, data centre facilities will run their servers at around 40% utilisation, meaning that 60% of potential compute capacity remains unused. At Poznan PSNC, however, the Iceotope system was set up to run at above 90% utilisation, running a highly demanding 'Linux Stress' software programme designed to assess every aspect of compute including memory, CPU, servers and applications. The system has been running for periods of up to 3 months while undergoing testing of the system, the cooling and the high speed networking.

"Running at such a high utilisation rate, or overclocking as it commonly known, means that IT users can run their systems in 'turbo mode' and get higher performance rates. However, this is the complete opposite to how most environmentally-friendly IT systems are run, as doing so requires the electronics to operate at much higher temperatures. To avoid damage to the equipment, cooling equipment capable of providing a constant temperature must be used and more often than not this is a power-hungry option. This high utilisation with low cooling cost makes the environmental figures we achieved all the more impressive."

Whilst most IT professionals will employ 'underclocking' techniques, with very low utilisation rates, in order to minimise power usage; Iceotope's 1.03 PUE figure was calculated during several two week periods where systems were running full-time at over 90 percent utilisation. The majority of liquid cooling solutions in the market today are unable to operate over such long periods, and many require constant supervision during the periods in which they are running. Iceotope's system does not. The Iceotope Solution is decoupled at the module, cabinet and data centre level, offering 2N redundancy throughout and levels of reliability only found in air cooled servers until now.

"Acting as a platform to demonstrate this kind of technological evolution is exactly what our project was set up to do," states Radek Januszewski, IT Specialist at the PSNC. "We set up this research project in an effort to establish the benefits of liquid cooling and the results we've seen so far are incredible. I see no reason why people would buy air-cooled systems ever again. We're trying to educate European HPC users of the most environmentally-friendly forms of IT and, in that regard, the Iceotope project has been a massive success. The environmental rating of the system is incredible and, coupled with the impeccable performance and reliability that it delivers, it is a real game-changer. "

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