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Illinois supercomputing center gets LEED Gold

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The newly built data center at the University of Illinois that will soon support one of the world’s most powerful supercomputers received LEED Gold certification from the US Green Building Council.

Even with 24MW of critical load, the National Petascale Computing Facility on site of the university’s National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) was given the USBGC’s second-highest award in recognition of an energy efficient design and a construction process that minimized impact on the environment.

In the summer of 2012, the high-performance computing system called Blue Waters will be installed at the facility. Dr William Kramer, deputy director of the Blue Waters project, said the supercomputer will take up three-fourths of the raised-floor space and use half of the data center’s critical-power capacity.

The supercomputer – manufactured by Cray – will provide computing power for research in a wide range of areas, including astrophysics, cosmology, earthquakes and spreading of diseases to name just a few.

“One percent of this system is more computing than NCSA currently has across all of its other machines,” Kramer said about Blue Waters. It will consist of more than 235 Cray XE6 cabinets, powered by AMD Opteron 6200 series processors, and more than 30 Cray XK6 supercomputer cabinets.

All that computing power will be liquid cooled, which was one of the key factors in getting the LEED certification. Kramer said Blue Waters was expected to use about 10,000 gallons per minute on average.

Operators of the data center are planning to use water of the highest-possible temperature to maximize the use of free cooling. That temperature, Kramer said, will range between 60F and 42F, the latter being the temperature mechanical systems can cool the water to.

He expects cooling towers outside of the facility to be sufficiently cooled by outside air for the majority of the year, however.

The facility scored more LEED points because of the design of the electrical system, which feeds 480V power directly to the IT equipment, eliminating the electrical losses that take place when power is stepped down to 120V in traditional systems.

While some critical components will be backed up by UPS, the 12MW used by the HPC system will not be on UPS, Kramer said, as it is not considered mission-critical.

The State of Illinois funded construction of the building at the cost of about US$65m, Kramer said. The National Science Foundation picked up the tab for the supercomputing system.

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  • The National Petascale Computing Facility at the University of Illinois

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