What is Green Supercomputing?

When we talk about supercomputers, what comes to our mind is their high-end processing ability and a large number of high-performance processors. Supercomputers offer high-end computing, but with high maintenance costs. In addition to the power consumed by them, their processors need to be cooled every now and then, which again requires more power. Most of the supercomputers have an entire building dedicated for their servicing. Today, when the world is “going green,” the concept of green supercomputing has started to make headlines.

What is Green Supercomputing?

Green Supercomputing as a concept initiates an effective balance between the performance and reliability of the supercomputer. In general, supercomputers offer high-end performance with frequent need for maintenance similar to that of race cars. They consume a large amount of power, thereby generating a large amount of heat. This overheating of processors at times leads to a higher rate of system failure. Therefore, the processors need to be spaced out and huge cooling systems need to be installed in the room where the supercomputer is placed; this leads to increased operation costs. Millions of US dollars are spent for the powering and cooling costs of supercomputers alone.

Supercomputing with Green Destiny

The concept of supercomputing in small spaces was materialized when Green Destiny, the first energy-efficient supercomputing system, was conceived by the Research and Development in Advanced Network Technology (RADIANT) group at Los Alamos. Wu-Chun Feng, RADIANT’S team leader, along with his fellow researchers used Transmeta Crusoe processors that consumed low power. Because of low power consumption, the processors could be compactly packed as there was no fear of overheating. Green Destiny achieved extraordinary efficiency and reliability, thereby expanding new dimensions in supercomputing. Extensive media coverage of Green Destiny evoked mixed reactions from the scientists. Even though its throughput was at par with the conventional supercomputers at the TOP500 list, many scientists felt that it compromised its performance for the sake of reliability. However, Feng stated that model of supercomputing in small spaces is a more practical approach to supercomputing.

Low-power and power-aware supercomputing: Which is better?

When supercomputers such as Green Destiny advocated the need for low-power super computing, it gave birth to another approach known as power-aware supercomputing, where the power adapts to the performance needs while the system is under operation. System experts argue that low-power computing has disadvantages such as drastic architectural modifications and reduction in cost-effectiveness as supercomputers do not rely on the ongoing commodity technology. In power-aware supercomputers, commodity-based hard ware and power-aware software systems are used in order to reduce power while maintaining performance.

Recently, an energy-efficient supercomputer from SiCortex was used by Prof. Philip Dickens, University of Maine, for climate modeling. Interestingly, he used the members of the University’s bicycle team to power it by pedaling. However, green supercomputing (also green computing) has become an indispensable element in the IT industry and considering power consumption during the design of such high-end systems has become one of the top priorities. All these encourage us to look forward to a “greener” computing environment.


For more pragmatic understanding and deeper insight, must read this special thesis on Green Supercomputing Comes of Age