ICARUS - A Green platform for HPC

ICARUS is a prototype of a future data center, combining high-end photovoltaic farming with a supercomputer consisting of low-energy components. We utilise one NVIDIA Tegra K1 processor for each compute node and add a specially designed low-energy data storage subsystem based on the Banana-Pi board.

The aim is, to show a way to build compute resources upon mass-market-driven mobile compute hardware in order to reach an energy-efficiency level that allows for powering the systems completely with renewable energy.

Ideas behind ICARUS

High Performance Computing (HPC) is energy-hungry

With thousands of compute nodes and tens of thousands of cores, data centers have a huge demand for power (and therefore - energy), sometimes in the megawatts-range due to scaling effects. A rule of thumb is, that a data center (which can be thought of as a very big computer with special cooling and other infrastructure) generates over lifetime as much cost for energy-supply as the hardware costs initially. We believe, that with commodity CPUs (and commodity accelerators) we are running into a dead end here, taking into account, that the problems to compute are not stopping to become more complex and hence more resource-hungry.

Green HPC is two-fold

There are many people working on Green Computing. We do too. However, in HPC, energy-efficiency of software is the main concern in this regard because the scientific community cannot influence the architecture of their data center's hardware. However, energy-efficiency of the compute-devices and therefore hardware is the major (but not the only) factor influencing the overall energy cost of what scientists simulate.

Unconventional Hardware could be an answer

In the past decade, due to the rise of the smartphone, mobile processors have evolved very fast into a more multi-purpose platform. Because they originate from embedded-systems, they have always been developed under the constraint of energy-efficiency and the fact, that they have a limited (battery-)power supply (as opposed to commodity CPU designs with focus on instruction set compatibility). So a valid idea seems to be to use these processors (and other hardware) for HPC: Current designs offer promising theoretical energy-efficiency (that is: performance per watts ratio, where performance usually means floating point operations per time unit) and in addition, they are very cheap.

System Integration in the 'Energiewende'

From the point of view of the German Energiewende, we, as scientists, are on the consumer side (that is, we consume energy for what we do: computer simulations). As such, we should try to be as efficient as we can when it comes to HPC. Two of the pillars of Energiewende are: Renewable energy sources and energy-efficient consumers. In the ICARUS project, we try to integrate as much modern technology to build a Green Data Center Prototype.