SC10 Preview: Green Sessions Bring Sustainability Home

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In this special guest feature, Natalie Bates previews SC10 sessions with an eye on Sustainability.

This is the second year in a row that I have previewed the Supercomputing Conference Technical Sessions with an eye towards energy efficiency and I am pleased to report that ‘sustainability’ was carried through from SC09 not as an explicit thrust, but embedded within many of the sessions. There is a continued emphasis on energy efficiency, with perhaps an even broader and deeper focus this year.

High Performance Computing is playing a lead role in modeling, simulations and visualization to support primary research, engineering programs and business tools that are helping to create a more “sustainable” future for humankind. Simultaneously, those involved in High Performance Computing are also scrutinizing how to minimize their immediate impact on energy consumption, water consumption, carbon-emissions and other non-sustainable activities.

The tagline on the SC10 Student Cluster Competition is telling “… On Coffee Power?” Students build and run the most-cutting edge, commercially available HPC architectures on just 26 amps at 120 volts of electricity (or the power equivalent of three standard-size coffee-makers).

As our computer centers grow to tens of megawatts in power, of course we are concerned with the impacts of our own activities. The “Climate Simulation” thrust at the SC10 Conference illuminates how High Performance Computing is contributing to societies’ drive toward understanding and minimizing the impacts of our activities and in helping search for sustainable solutions that address societal needs and goals. There are numerous technical events that can be categorized into three topical areas; energy efficiency of system architecture, energy efficiency of data centers and renewable energy sources.

Accelerator-based supercomputers now occupy the top eight slots of the most recent Green500 list so it isn’t surprising that heterogeneous computing is extensively examined as a means for achieving computing system energy efficiencies. There are also several sessions that explore improving efficiency through monitoring, power-aware consolidation, scheduling as well as user profiling and debugging. Evaluations and proposals for improving hardware subsystem power characteristics are numerous and include, for example, sessions on silicon based memory technologies for storage systems, fluid submersion cooling, on chip networks for multi-core processors and energy efficiency in parallel I/O subsystems. Finally, especially due to the power challenge for exascale computing, many of the panels and masterworks sessions have an explicit focus on energy efficiency.

Data center energy efficiency is also featured in technical sessions, although they are far fewer in number than those focused on system architecture. There is a workshop on Sunday which is entirely focused on “Running a Lean and Productive HPC Center.” Beyond this workshop, there are many exhibitor forums that offer lessons learned and case studies. This year’s sessions also include two attempts to explore renewable energy sources for HPC data centers. One is featured in the Disruptive Technology area and focuses on solar energy and the other is an Exhibitor Forum and explores a real world case study using multiple renewable energy sources, including geothermal energy.

The Energy Efficient HPC Working Group is hosting a Birds of Feather to drive implementation of energy conservation measures and energy efficient design in high performance computing for both system architecture and the HPC data center. I hope to see you there!

I have complied a detailed list of the SC10 Technical Sessions that have a focus on energy efficiency. This list is organized broadly by the three topics of system architecture energy efficiency, data center energy efficiency and renewable energy sources. Within each topic, the sessions are listed chronologically.

See you at SC10!

About the Author: Natalie Bates is co-chair of the Energy Efficient HPC User Group.