Green IT Cube opens

New energy-efficient high-performance computing centre for GSI and FAIR

The Green IT Cube at dawn. (Photo: Gaby Otto, GSI)

The building for the new high-performance computing centre Green IT Cube at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research has been completed after just one year of construction. The Green IT Cube will be one of the most powerful scientific computing centres in the world. It achieves its high energy and cost efficiency thanks to a special cooling system. The official opening ceremony for the six-storey building was held on 22 January by Dr Georg Schütte, State Secretary at the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and chair of the GSI supervisory board and the FAIR Council, and Ingmar Jung, State Secretary at the Hesse Ministry of Science and Art. The Green IT Cube will provide enormous computing capacity for experiments at the accelerator facilities of GSI, and, in future, FAIR.

The Green IT Cube is a highly energy-efficient computing centre because it uses much less energy to cool its computers than conventional computing centres. Instead of air, the Green IT Cube cools its computers with water. This means the energy used for cooling is only seven percent of the electrical power used for computing. Conventional computing centres with air cooling use 30 to 100 percent. Such centres require high ceilings or cold aisle and hot aisle systems with complex climate controls.

Space-effective and cost-effective

This effective cooling process enables space-saving positioning of computers in the Green IT Cube. The cube-shaped building measures 27 x 30 x 22 metres and can hold 768 computer cabinets side by side on six floors. Simultaneously saving energy and space makes the Green IT Cube very cost-efficient. Investment costs for the building were about €12 million and were provided by the German federal government and the state of Hesse via a Helmholtz investment programme.

A computing centre for science

The Green IT Cube is used by researchers to perform simulations and to develop detectors for FAIR. In addition, they will use it to analyse measurements obtained from experiments in the accelerator facilities of GSI, and, in future, FAIR, in order to gain fundamental insights into the structure of matter and the development of the universe. To make this possible, the Green IT Cube will be equipped with computer systems that meet the researchers’ long-term needs for processing power, storage capacity and transfer rates.

“The new Green IT Cube computing centre is an important milestone for the future accelerator centre FAIR,” says Schütte. “It also shows that international research projects like FAIR produce many new technologies that can be important for society as a whole. In view of the great need for processing power and the necessity of saving energy, the technology in the Green IT Cube has the potential for broad application.”

“We are pleased that top-level research is going on here in Darmstadt and that the state of Hesse is thus setting standards for IT technology and energy efficiency,” says State Secretary Jung. “The Green IT Cube is an example of successful basic research that also benefits Hesse’s industry and economy.”

“We would like to thank the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the Hesse Ministry of Science and Art, which financed the construction of the Green IT Cube via the Helmholtz investments in further expansion,” says Prof. Karlheinz Langanke, Scientific Director of the GSI. “We would also like to thank the developers of the Green IT Cube for their outstanding work. The Green IT Cube will give our researchers the computing capacity they need at GSI and FAIR today and in the future. Later, the Green IT Cube will be FAIR’s main computing centre.”

Unsurpassed processing power in the Green IT Cube

Currently, two storeys of the Green IT Cube are equipped with four megawatts of cooling power. When it is finished it will have 12 megawatts of cooling power. The cube can house around 300,000 CPUs, which corresponds to about 100,000 PCs. They offer the superior processing power needed for simulating and analysing experiments at GSI and FAIR. The plan calls for 100 petabytes to store experiment data – the equivalent of around one million conventional PC hard drives. The very high data rates of these experiments can be recorded at a speed of over one terabyte per second. That is the equivalent of around 500,000 residential DSL connections.

The GSI’s existing computers will begin moving into the Green IT Cube in February. Among them is the L-CSC cluster, which ranks third in the Green500, the list of the world’s most energy-efficient supercomputers (it held first place until June 2015). The L-CSC has a rate of computation of 5.27 billion operations per second per watt of electrical power. Its processing power is equal to one quadrillion operations per second (one petaflop per second).

An award-winning concept

The Green IT Cube was developed by Prof. Volker Lindenstruth, head of information technology at GSI, his team, and his colleague Prof. Horst Stöcker, in cooperation with the Frankfurt Institute for Advanced Studies (FIAS) and Goethe University Frankfurt. The Green IT Cube concept has already won multiple awards. Among them was the Green IT Best Practice Award for its computing centre and computing concept, presented in 2011 under the aegis of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. In June 2015, the Green IT Cube received an international award for the most innovative computing centre at Datacloud 2015, the European conference on data centres and cloud computing.

More information about the Green IT Cube


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