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New initiatives in energy-efficient computing

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The drive to improve the energy efficiency of high performance computing took two significant steps forward with the announcement of two very different initiatives but both directed at the same end.

Lenovo and the UK’s Hartree Centre are to collaborate on a joint research project, using ARM processors and improved software. At about the same time, CoolIT Systems, which specialises in Direct Contact Liquid Cooling technology, announced that the Demand Liquid Alliance (DLA) industry group, which it set up three years ago, is to amalgamate with The Green Grid Association, the leading international group promoting resource-efficient information technology and data centres.

The Hartree Centre will be working with Lenovo to research the effects of scale-out versus scale-up systems within a defined power budget. Hartree will also be developing software and defining best practices regarding ARM-based server deployments. Although ARM technology has shown promise, the biggest hurdle to overcome is the creation of an ecosystem to support a production environment.

The Hartree Centre is a research collaboration between the UK Government’s Science and Technology Facilities Council’s (STFC) and private industry. It will be evaluating the benefits of highly targeted, workload-optimised server designs. Whereas the majority of today’s servers are designed to be deployed across a wide range of workloads, this project will focus initially on a narrow set of applications to optimise performance per Watt and also performance against cost.

The Demand Liquid Alliance was an industry group aimed at creating standards for liquid cooling technology so as to encourage the wider adoption of liquid cooling. The underpinning idea was that data centres would feel more confident in employing the technology if they could see a programme of education, standardisation, and quality guarantees.

Now, the Green Grid Association has established a Liquid Cooling Group within its Technical Committee to provide a forum to push the best practice for liquid cooling implementations. As the leading organisation internationally on resource efficiency across the entire information and communications technology (ICT) ecosystem, the Green Grid is thus well positioned to take on and develop the work of the DLA, according to CoolIT. However, the Green Grid does not endorse vendor-specific products or solutions; instead, it seeks to provide industry-wide recommendations on best practices, metrics and technologies that will improve efficiency.

The Liquid Cooling Group will focus on all aspects of the data centre relating to liquid cooling, including facility planning, water quality best practices, management interface between data centres and liquid cooling solutions, and it is also expected to help develop standards for liquid cooling. Geoff Lyon, CEO/CTO of CoolIT Systems, said: ‘CoolIT has led by joining The Green Grid as a contributing member and encourages other industry companies to do the same.’

As part of its collaboration with the Hartree Centre, Lenovo is developing an ARM-based server prototype as an extension to its dense computing platform NeXtScale. Given its open and flexible design, NeXtScale solutions are used extensively by users of high-performance computing, grid deployments, analytics workloads, and large-scale cloud and virtualisation infrastructures. The NeXtScale ARM server will be based on the Cavium ThunderX SoC (system on chip) which has a full range of capabilities built-in to help minimize cost and power consumption. The NeXtScale enclosure is designed to optimize density and performance while fitting in a standard 19-inch rack and can hold up to 12 ARM-based servers, delivering 1,152 cores while occupying only 6U of rack space.

Neil Morgan, programme manager for energy-efficient computing at the Hartree Centre, said: ‘This is a fantastic opportunity to meet the challenge of developing a computationally powerful and energy-efficient platform based on the 64-bit ARM v8 microprocessor. The Hartree Centre will be developing a robust software ecosystem encompassing compilers, linkers, numerical libraries and tools – all of which are fundamental to the adoption of these types of technologies.’ Makoto Ono, senior research staff member at Lenovo, added: ‘Open partnerships are critical to the future of IT and we are pleased to join forces with the Hartree Centre to tackle this challenge.’