Monday, May 19, 2008

UA Researchers Create a Leaner, Greener Computer Cluster

[Source: University of Arizona Communications] - A shared computer cluster at The University of Arizona is significantly reducing both the environmental impact and the energy costs of campus computing.

The computer cluster is cooled by chilled water instead of air conditioning. As a result the data center at the UA's University Information Technology Services, known as UITS, has been able to reduce its continuous air conditioning systems use from 50 tons to 30 tons – a 40 percent savings in air conditioning use, and one that also will extend the life of the air conditioning units in the data center.

A computer cluster isn't all that different from a desktop machine. It’s essentially a number of computers, often linked by local area networks, that work together as a more powerful single computer. Computer clusters already help run many University projects, and much of research in general.

The UA’s new computer cluster is shared by Arizona Research Labs, the BIO5 Institute, the ecology and evolutionary biology department and the astronomy department. It also allows the participating departments and programs to conserve resources by letting them "borrow" computing power from other departments and programs using the cluster during high-use times.

"We're sharing the computing power, so we can use it more efficiently," explains Nirav Merchant, director of biotechnology computing for Arizona Research Labs and a member of BIO5.

Traditionally each department or program would need enough power to cover its own high-volume times, even though at other times that power would go unused. Essentially, the researchers are taking advantage of one another's downtime. Merchant describes the arrangement as being akin to a sort of "computer condo" inhabited by the departments and programs. "There are parts of the condo residents have access to that are entirely their own, but there are also community resources everyone can benefit from," Merchant said.

Pooling resources and reducing the environmental impact of computing is crucial in an era where the amount of data to be analyzed increases daily – and where what researchers hope to learn from that data grows more complicated. "We're very conscious of the green aspect of computing," Merchant says, "especially as everything becomes bigger and faster and more complex."

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