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Supercomputing Power Technology

Low Energy Supercomputing 159

Posted by samzenpus
from the on-a-dime dept.
Faith Singer at TACC writes "The term 'supercomputing' usually evokes images of large, expensive computer systems that calculate unfathomable algorithms and run on enough energy to support a small city. Now, imagine a supercomputer, but run on the electrical equivalent of three standard-size coffee-makers. This year's international supercomputing conference, SC10, will feature the Student Cluster Competition that challenges students to build, maintain, and run the most-cutting edge, commercially available high-performance computing (HPC) architectures on just 26 amps."
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Low Energy Supercomputing

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  • by Z_A_Commando (991404) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @04:48PM (#33373654)

    Having participated in the first of the Student Cluster Challenges at SC07 when I was still in undergrad, I can attest that there's far more to this than what the summary lets on. Not only are you limited to 26 Amps, which is the significant limiting factor, but you're located on the show floor and running your system for 36 hours straight in front of the conference attendees. Moreover, all hardware must be in production and unmodified and fit within a single rack. The Taiwanese team lucked out in this regard as they were using the (then new) 45nm Intel Xeons that were announced the day before the competition started. The only thing you can modify is the code for the programs you have to run (except for the HPC benchmarks).

    Some of you might be thinking "pfff...I can stay awake for 36 hours, no problem". That's true, but you're not allowed to be in your booth for more than 12 hours straight and after you leave you must take an 8 hour break. Furthermore, the machines are firewalled from all incoming connections and do not share the same internet connection that the rest of the conference uses.

    At SC07, there was a significant power failure on the second day of the competition which brought most teams to their knees. The applications we were running (GAMESS [wikipedia.org], POP [lanl.gov], POV-RAY [povray.org]) are not designed to pick up from a power failure. While the Taiwanese had by far the most powerful system, they couldn't recover from the power failure that had corrupted their SAN in time to win.

    To your point, I'm not sure you could get 158 Atoms in a set of off-the-shelf servers that would fit in a single rack to equal a cluster running the latest E series Xeons that perform at top clock but have a lower TDP.

  • by Anne Thwacks (531696) on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @05:02PM (#33373824)
    I seem to recall my PDP11 required 26A on each of 3 phases at 415 volts to power-up, and it had 1Mb or core memory.

    And nominally, all the power of a 486! (Actually, it supported 12 users doing data entry.) Not what I called a super computer, even then.

    I think my phone outperforms it in proportion to its 16G or memory: 12,000 times more powerful - Now THAT is what I call a super computer!

  • by forkazoo (138186) <wrosecrans.gmail@com> on Wednesday August 25, 2010 @05:35PM (#33374336) Homepage

    Having participated in the first of the Student Cluster Challenges at SC07 when I was still in undergrad, I can attest that there's far more to this than what the summary lets on. Not only are you limited to 26 Amps, which is the significant limiting factor, but you're located on the show floor and running your system for 36 hours straight in front of the conference attendees. Moreover, all hardware must be in production and unmodified and fit within a single rack. The Taiwanese team lucked out in this regard as they were using the (then new) 45nm Intel Xeons that were announced the day before the competition started. The only thing you can modify is the code for the programs you have to run (except for the HPC benchmarks).

    The "unmodified, in production" seems kind of confusing to me. At that point, it sort of seems like a competition of who can buy the nicest hardware, rather than coming up withs something clever and new. Still, sounds like it would be a fun competition.

    And, it seems like the "1 rack" limitation would be hard for most teams to stretch to the limit, with only 3 kW. Does anybody actually get anywhere near filling up the whole rack?

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