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IBM's new water-cooled supercomputer fires up

Oh it warms the heart. And other bits

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Aquasar, a new water-cooled IBM supercomputer, has just been fired up at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

It’s a 6-Tflop system that uses 33 two-way blades with Cell processors and an additional nine blades with dual Nehalem processors, all contained in three of their BladeCenter H Chassis. Two of the three chassis are water-cooled, covering 22 of the Cell boards and six of the Nehalem-based blades. What’s kind of cool (so to speak) is that they are using the waste heat to feed an estimated 9 kW of thermal power into the building’s heating system. This is pretty innovative stuff.

They’re using chip-attached water blocks and circulating ‘hot’ water through the system – hot being defined as 60 degrees Celsius (140°F) input and 65°C (149°F) output temperatures. I’m assuming that the liquid isn’t coming from a chiller (or it’s coming from a really crappy one), so the output line is going through a heat exchanger and giving up its warm payload to the liquid that circulates through the rooms to keep the chill off.

I’ve often asked engineering types why waste heat from the data center isn’t reused, and the answer I’ve received is that the output temperature of the air (in traditionally cooled data centers) is too low and can’t easily be concentrated enough to provide a payoff. With an output temperature of 65°C/150°F from liquid cooling, it’s a different game – that’s definitely hot enough to do something with, I would think.

And Switzerland is a place that could use some heat, as I discovered during one trip in January when I paused for a moment near Lake Geneva and almost froze to the ground. In addition to heating buildings and perhaps Switzerland itself, I can also see boiling eggs and cooking pasta as key use cases.

If you’re interested in a few more details, here’s the press release, but be warned that it’s chock-full of carbon talk and a bit light on technical and return-on-investment details. I recently did a webcast with a liquid cooling expert from 3M (here) and am looking to schedule another one, so if any of you have liquid cooling-related questions you’d like me to ask him, let me know. ®

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