CONVERGENCE is 100% in Portland

All the buzz about energy and climate makes for an interesting backdrop to the SuperComputing ’09 conference that has converged on soggy Portland this week. Globally, according to Gartner, information and communications technologies are responsible for ~2% of global CO2 emissions and HPC (High Performance Computing) data centers are amongst the most energy intensive. A fascinating aspect of this week’s conference is the extent to which HPC can have a positive impact on reducing the other 98% of emissions – in other words reinventing industries and applying technology to have a positive impact on the environment.

SuperComputing gathers a very large contingent of the HPC community annually for a wide range of technical talks, demonstrations, workshops, and great keynotes (more on that in a bit!). One of the themes for this year’s SC09 conference is “sustainability”. Portland, Oregon was a great choice of a host for this year’s conference because of all the environmentally aware programs and activities here in the city. A quick Internet search of “top green cities rated” will invariably have Portland at or near the top. This conference is so large that it spills over into multiple venues. It’s a lot of fun to see the whole HPC community shuttling around Portland on the environmentally inspired Max light rail and street cars.

But the throngs in attendance weren’t the only convergence here. So at Intel, along with our customers and partners, we are working diligently to improve the energy efficiency of the products we make and sell – back to that 2% figure cited above. Our Eco-Tech team had a brief meeting with representatives of CERN, the large European Center for Nuclear Research in Geneva, Switzerland, who were more than pleased that the current systems they are deploying can get 10X the work done than the platforms they deployed just 4 years ago while consuming less power. But the real opportunity is how we can make the other 98% of that energy use more efficient thru the increased use of computational capabilities, controls, and optimizations.

Everywhere on the SC09 show floor it’s all about lower power and increased efficiency. But customers like NASA, the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), CERN, and the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) also put computational power to good use to solve the scientific, climate, societal, and energy challenges of tomorrow. We can help them serve the planet by increasing the efficiency of our products and working with these end-users to better solve the 98%. During the Sustainability Day at SC09 a wide range of activities from a masterworks session called “Toward Exascale Climate Modeling” to a panel discussion on “Energy Efficient Data Centers for HPC: How Lean and Green do we need to be?”. This proved to be a great day!

Did I mention the keynotes? Justin Rattner, Intel CTO kicked off the week with an exciting and inspiring discussion of the 3D Web and how it will make the HPC community that much better and more productive. He closed with an amazing demo of a more than a Teraflop of performance on a single “Larrabee” chip. That’s more than a trillion operations per second on one processor! Former Vice President AL Gore’s keynote talked about energy, climate, and computing. His message rang true to the crowd, he highlighted technology and innovation as a fundamental requirement for making a meaningful change in our current trajectory.

Another highlight from the conference is the update to the Top 500 list. This time the Jaguar computer at Oak Ridge National Labs topped the list at 1.759 Petaflops. While Jaguar is not an IA-based machine, my favorite take-away from the list is our prevalence: OVER 400 of the 500 supercomputers listed are powered by Intel processors. And with the increased performance per watt packed into the current Nehalem offerings and efforts to move our future generations even higher on the energy efficient computing scale I feel good about our companies efforts to attack both the 2% and the 98%.

Maybe you have some ideas to share on this subject – especially how we can pull together new sustainable practices. I’d love to get your comments and help to influence change within Intel and with industry.

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