Water-cooled IBM supercomputer cuts emissions

Zurich, Switzerland – Aiming to cut emissions from data centers, IBM has unveiled a new high performance computer that uses water for cooling.

Up to 50 percent of a data center’s carbon footprint is generated by cooling, rather than computing. The new Aquasar machine, developed with the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH), is claimed to decrease the system’s carbon footprint by up to 85 percent and save up to 30 tons of CO2 per year.

“We cannot afford anymore to design computer systems based on the criterion of computational speed and performance alone”, explains Professor D Poulikakos of ETH Zurich, head of the Laboratory of Thermodynamics in Emerging Technologies. “The new target must be high performance and low net power consumption supercomputers and data centers. This means liquid cooling.”

The system, which will consist of two BladeCenter servers in one rack, with a peak performance of around 10 Teraflops, will be installed at ETH Zurich next year. It is expected to cut energy consumption by 40 percent and provide waste heat to warm university buildings.

The developers reckon water can capture heat as much as 4,000 times more efficiently than air-cooling. The Aquasar system will use about ten liters of water in a closed-loop system, pumping about 30 liters of water per minute. The water passes through a passive heat-exchanger, supplying heat directly to the university’s heating system.

IBM is also making a couple of other green annoucements today: a research initiative to develop next-generation lithium-ion batteries and tie-ups with companies including Cisco and Johnson Controls to integrate IBM’s Green Sigma consulting service with their products.