Through a project known as Aquasar, IBM researchers are working on new technologies that could drastically reduce the power consumption and carbon footprint of data centers. Aquasar involves a water-cooled supercomputer that uses 40% less energy than comparable systems that use today's air-conditioned methods.In addition to saving energy, Aquasar takes the waste heat it pulls from servers and uses the heat to help warm nearby offices. By combining these energy savings, a company's carbon footprint can be reduced by as much as 85%.
The Aquasar project began one year ago as part of IBM's First-Of-A-Kind (FOAK) program. Recently, IBM delivered its first-of-a-kind hot water-cooled supercomputer to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich). The actual project is part of a three-year collaboration between IBM and ETH Zurich.
The supercomputer uses special water-cooled IBM BladeCenter Servers. Aquasar also holds additional air-cooled IBM BladeCenter servers. In total, the system achieves a performance of six Teraflops and has an energy efficiency of about 450 megaflops per watt. Additionally, nine kilowatts of thermal power are directed into the ETH Zurich's building heating system.
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"With Aquasar we achieved an important milestone on the way to CO2-neutral data centers," said Dr. Bruno Michel, manager of Advanced Thermal Packaging at IBM Research – Zurich. "The next step in our research is to focus on the performance and characteristics of the cooling system which will be measured with an extensive system of sensors, in order to optimize it further."
The Aquasar system uses micro-channel liquid coolers that are attached directly to the processors. Thanks to this chip-level cooling, the thermal resistance between the processor and the water is reduced to the point that water temperatures of up to 60 degrees C still enable the processors to stay well below the maximally allowed 85 degrees C temperature.
"With Aquasar, we make an important contribution to the development of sustainable high performance computers and computer system. In the future it will be important to measure how efficiently a computer is per watt and per gram of equivalent CO2 production," said Prof. Dimos Poulikakos, head of the Laboratory of Thermodynamics in New Technologies, ETH Zurich.
IBM isn't currently marketing Aquasar in any of its commercial products, but it's probably safe to assume that the company will integrate this development into its portfolio in the years to come.