Greener IT, one core at a time…

I’m happy to share today that the government of Germany has presented Intel with an award for the development of our 48-core concept vehicle, the Single Chip Cloud Computer. The research chip won a German Innovation Prize for Climate and the Environment in the category “Environmentally Friendly Technologies.” The German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety and the Federation of German Industries presents these awards each year to acknowledge innovations that protect the climate and the environment. Franz Olbrich, from the lab in Germany which co-led the design of the SCC, traveled to Berlin to accept the award today on behalf of the company.

Developing ‘green IT’ is an essential focus for Intel researchers, and the fact that Intel is one of largest purchasers of renewable energy shows how important resource conservation and sustainability is for the company’s operations. Information technology now causes carbon emission comparable to that of civil aviation. At first a many-core processor might seem like an unlikely candidate to address these issues. Doesn’t more computation mean more energy spent?

The answer is: not if you spend that energy wisely. The SCC, along with our entire Tera-scale computing research program, exists as a part of a larger effort to do more with less, computationally. This is because breaking down processing tasks into more and more parallel elements, running on streamlined cores, is a more energy-efficient approach than making chips run at faster clock speeds. That is, provided that this parallel computing can be done effectively. The SCC prototypes a variety of research techniques to make this division of work more efficient so that the energy benefits of many-core can be more fully realized.

In addition to raw parallelism, the SCC incorporates fine-grain power management features that allow software applications to determine how much energy is needed at a given time and for a given task. Clock frequencies and voltages can be set to different levels across the chip depending on application needs. Cores or even entire banks of cores can sleep and wake as needed. The 48 cores require just 25 watts in idle mode or 125 watts when running at maximum performance, which is comparable to the consumption of two standard household light bulbs. Imagine applying this kind of capability across large systems such as data centers, and you can see how the power savings would multiply.

The SCC has also been shared with worldwide research partners through Intel’s recently launched Many-core Applications Research Community (MARC), a program aimed at spurring innovations in highly parallel software. More than 100 teams are conducting research on programming models, operating systems, development tools and programming languages for both microprocessors and data centers of the future.

As a final note – in accepting the award Franz also announced today that Intel plans to match the 25,000 Euro prize and donate it to a scholarship program which sponsors talented, high-profile students in Germany.

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