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Canadian HPC consortium cools its super in a circle

Now you too can put your old particle accelerator to good use

ComputerWorld ran a story by Ted Samson last week on InfoWorld’s 2010 Green 15 Awards. One of the winners, CLUMEQ (Consortium Laval, Université du Québec, McGill and Eastern Quebec), is an HPC consortium in Canada. They took an interesting approach to siting their latest supercomputer, a Sun (Oracle) Constellation system with 7,680 Intel Nehalem cores.

The Université Laval in Quebec, Canada, had two problems. First, its campus was home to a run-down particle accelerator, constructed in the 1960s, that needed to be decommissioned. Second, the university and 11 of its fellow institutions, members of an HPC consortium, needed a place to construct a state-of-the-art supercomputer. With a little ingenuity — and a devotion to embracing sustainable practices — the group was able to transform the 36-foot-wide, 65-foot-high circular concrete silo into an effective cooling enclosure for its supercomputer.

Transforming the silo into a home for a new data center presented some unusual challenges for CLUMEQ (Consortium Laval, Université du Québec, McGill and Eastern Quebec). The final design concept comprised a topology where three levels of server racks are arranged along a circle, creating an inner hot-air cylindrical core and an outer ring-shaped cold-air plenum. The large floor cross-section of the cold-side plenum results in very low air velocity, almost no turbulence (thanks to the absence of corners), and thus uniform temperature and pressure, according to Marc Parizeau, professor at Université Laval and deputy director of CLUMEQ.

According to the article, CLUMEQ estimates that the design saves more than 1.5 million kWh a year; if you’re paying $0.08/kWh, that works out to $120,000 a year.

Transforming the silo into a data center likely costs more than going the conventional square-build, raised-floor route, Parizeau said, “but this does not take into account the higher efficiency of the silo design, nor the fact that we recycled a building that was almost impossible to reuse for anything else. It may have cost a little more, but we got more for the money — and there were no budget overruns.”

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