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Hippy geeks threaten supercomputing masculinity

My cluster is greener than yours

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SC06 There's no bigger boast in the supercomputing field than being able to say, "mine's bigger than yours". A handful of researchers, however, hope to tweak this bragging contest to something along the lines of "mine's pretty big and greener than yours".

The researchers have pushed out a new "Green 500" list meant to complement the existing Top 500 list of the world's fastest supercomputers. The "Green" version of the list will evaluate the balance between a supercomputer's overall performance and energy consumption. The emergence of such a list builds on a growing focus in the server industry around controlling energy costs.

It's early days with the Green 500 to be sure. The leads behind the program – Wu-chun Feng and Kirk Cameron of Virginia Tech – have yet to submit a complete list of their top 500 systems. That's because the computer scientists are still in the midst of taking suggestions on how to measure performance versus energy consumption in the best way.

Their current list tracks Flops per Watt, although Feng called such a metric lacking, during an interview here at the Supercomputing conference.

Feng has been working on low-power systems for years – most notably via the Green Destiny cluster built out of Transmeta-based blades at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Subsequently, the entire server industry has rallied around the notion of "green computing" as energy costs have emerged as the most significant data center expense.

In the good old days, national labs built massive supercomputers with little concern for how much power they would consume. The manly idea was to create the biggest, baddest system possible even if it meant funding a specialized $200m building just to cool the monster.

This "mine's bigger than yours" contest will continue as the US tries to stay ahead of rival nations with its supercomputing systems. But myriad researchers would like to find a better balance between performance and power for the bulk of supercomputing systems.

The likes of Intel, AMD, Sun Microsystems, HP, and IBM have moved to encourage these green efforts. The vendors all argue that they have the most power efficient chips and servers with which to save customers' money.

Come Supercomputing 2007 in Reno, the vendors should find a more formal Green 500 list with which to measure their performance and issue the appropriate press releases. Feng expects the list to be unveiled at that conference. ®

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