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NREL Selects Partners for New High Performance Computer Data Center

September 5, 2012

The U.S. Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) has selected HP and Intel to provide a new energy-efficient high performance computer (HPC) system dedicated to energy systems integration, renewable energy research, and energy efficiency technologies. The new center will provide additional computing resources to support the breadth of research at NREL, leading to increased efficiency and lower costs for research into clean energy technologies including solar photovoltaics, wind energy, electric vehicles, buildings technologies, and renewable fuels.

The $10 million HPC system will reside at the Energy Systems Integration Facility (ESIF), under construction on the Golden, Colorado, campus. The new system will greatly expand NREL’s modeling and simulation capabilities, including advancing materials research and developing a deeper understanding of biological and chemical processes. It will also support research into fully integrated energy systems that would otherwise be too expensive, or even impossible, to study directly. The HPC’s petascale computing capability (1 million billion calculations per second) is the world’s largest computing capability dedicated solely to renewable energy and energy efficiency research.

“This unique capability sets NREL apart in our ability to continue groundbreaking research and analysis,” NREL Director Dan Arvizu said. “In partnership with HP and Intel, NREL is acquiring one of the most energy efficient, high performance computer systems in the world for our research.”

The HPC data center at NREL is designed to be the world’s most energy efficient, with an annualized average power usage effectiveness (PUE) rating of 1.06 or better. The average data center operates with a PUE of 1.91, according to 2009 data from the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Program. NREL’s data center design is compact, resulting in short runs for both electrical and plumbing components. This project features a technology, currently under development, that uses warm water in the computing rack to efficiently cool the servers.

NREL will maximize the reuse of heat generated by the HPC system. The “waste heat” from the computer system will be used as the primary heat source in the ESIF offices and lab space. Excess heat can also be exported to adjacent buildings and other areas of the NREL campus. All together, the efficiency of the data center, the energy efficiency features of the HPC system and the system’s ability to reuse heat combine to reduce overall energy use. The system is projected to deliver substantial energy savings and avoid significant costs through the efficiency improvements. The project will help the Energy Department implement President Barack Obama’s Executive Order on federal sustainability that set aggressive energy efficiency goals across the federal government.

“The industry is more and more cognizant of the amount of energy being used in our nation’s data centers,” NREL Computational Science Center Director Steve Hammond said. “NREL’s new HPC data center in the ESIF will set the standard for sustainable and energy efficient computing. The data center will have a world-leading PUE and reuse nearly all waste heat generated. Most data centers do only one or the other, not both.”

“NREL needed a system that would deliver on their commitment to energy efficiency while achieving the highest levels of performance for their researchers,” Scott Misage, director, HPC, HP, said. “HP ProLiant servers and innovative water cooled design provide the foundation needed to make this data center one of the most efficient in the world, while reaching petascale performance.”

The HPC system will be deployed in two phases that will include scalable HP ProLiant SL230s and SL250s Generation 8 (Gen8) servers based on eight-core Intel Xeon E5-2670 processors as well as the next generation of servers featuring future 22nm Ivy Bridge architecture based Intel® Xeon® processors and Intel Many Integrated Core architecture based Intel® Xeon Phi™ co-processors. The first phase of the HPC installation will begin in November 2012, reaching petascale capacity in the summer of 2013. HP and Intel were selected after a competitive, open procurement process.

“Research on renewable energy and new energy sources are the areas that are aimed to address humanity’s biggest challenges and will impact literally everyone on the globe. Our collaboration with HP and NREL is also bringing computer architecture and system cooling to accelerate innovation in more efficient use of energy critical for achieving exascale performance by end of the decade,” Stephen Wheat, general manager of High Performance Computing at Intel said. “We are proud to have Intel’s most powerful and energy efficient products as the combination of Intel Xeon processors and Intel Xeon Phi co-processors to help NREL in their efforts.”

NREL is the U.S. Department of Energy's primary national laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development. NREL is operated for DOE by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy, LLC.


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