Sugar cube size supercomputers

November 15, 2010 by John Messina weblog
Sugar cube size supercomputers
The prototype chip stacks are threaded with fine cooling layers. Credit: IBM Research Lab

( -- IBM labs in Zurich may very well shrink a supercomputer processor down to the size of a sugar cube making it almost 50% more energy-efficient than the world's leading supercomputers.

IBM’s approach involves stacking many computer processors on top of one another and cooling them with water flow between each layer. This method reduces computers' energy use, rather than just shrinking them.

Speaking at IBM's Zurich labs, Dr Bruno Michel told BBC News reporter; "In the past, computers were dominated by hardware costs. In the future, computers will be dominated by energy costs; to run a data center will cost more than to build it."

Dr Michel and his team have constructed a prototype to demonstrate the water-cooling principle. Called Aquasar, the resides in a cabinet larger than a refrigerator.

Sugar cube size supercomputers
The Aquasar is built on a series of water-cooled servers. Credit: IBM Research Lab

Dr Michel further stated: "We currently have built this Aquasar system that's one rack full of processors. We plan that 10 to 15 years from now, we can collapse such a system in to one sugar cube; we're going to have a supercomputer in a sugar cube."

Engineers concern for future supercomputers will not be in the cost of building them but how much it will cost to operate them. The side product of any computer is heat and the cost of cooling them can get expensive.

According to Dr Michel, using current technology for a standard chip comprising a milligram of transistors and requires 1kg of equipment to cool it; this introduces a great deal of bulk.

Dr. Michel and his engineers envision stacking processors one on top of another in large stacks each separated by water cooling channels that are not much thicker than a human hair.

By stacking the processors closer together the issues of speed, size, and running costs, can be tackled all st the same time. The team has already proven the concept by building a stack of four processors, however there is much more work that still needs to be done.

Explore further: IBM Hot Water-Cooled Supercomputer Goes Live at ETH Zurich

More information: Via: BBC News

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not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
I noticed they have several datacenters in Norway, but most of them are in Oslo, being close to the users and the optic sea cable, but why not extend a cable to Lapland and build a mostly passively cooled datacenter there, 200 days of winter, at times temperatures of -45/-50 Celsius, to bridge the short arctic summer, stored and cooled winterwater could be pumped up from reservoir. Showstopppers: The datacenter would have to be build very robust for the fierce environment and be able to mostly operate/controlled remotely because not to many people would want to live there and or housing them is especially costly, maybe the native Lapland people, the raindeer hunter gathers being the serviceman doing inspections on his sled...
not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
Pumping water from a reservoir requires energy which would immediately change your system from passive cooling to active. Your system is exactly what they use today except your design uses a preexisting natural reservoir. You might as well use that energy for cooling systems physically closer to the data center rather than building the data center in an inconvenient location. However, the benefit you have is that if this natural reservoir is exceedingly large or cold, you can use a smaller volume of water to cool the system since your delta T is much higher between the water and processor. You could design a system where a natural river naturally flowed through a cooling system without needing to be pumped, but you may adversely effect river life by increasing it's temperature. Best solution is build more energy efficient processors as per the article.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 15, 2010
They're still talking about 2-D processors stacked into a 3-D shape. The real revolution will be a truly 3-D processor.
not rated yet Nov 15, 2010
Sounds like a hydroelectric generating station would be an ideal location for a datacenter. Electricity comes pre transmission line loss, so it should be cheaper/more reliable. Plenty of water for cooling. Hopefully, the warm water can be put to good use, like heating homes and offices in the immediate area, or keeping greenhouses from freezing.
not rated yet Nov 16, 2010
i think they turned the semi 3D (stacked 2D) nuissance as opposed to solid 3D into a feature, as you use the small gap as cooling channel, while solid 3d has potential to go even more compact, you likely run into insurmountable cooling problems, you need channels and this way they realize high utillisation grade of a small space by squeezing both components in there. I could imagion for special applications smallest solid cubes with minimal required carved coolling channels will be made, but for mass consumption goods, economics dictates that stacking slices and modularity (interchange the slices to sell different sandwiches)is probably easier/cheaper for the manufacturer.
5 / 5 (1) Nov 16, 2010
Water cooling can be passive, the heating and cooling can move the water.

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