Met Office Wants Green DC Supercomputers

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The government’s weather prediction department would waste less energy if it avoided converting from DC to AC current – but it still needs more power

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The Met Office is planning to upgrade to its high performance computing systems in the next 18 months and is focusing on how to make those systems more efficient, according to the organisation’s head of IT services.

One of the techniques the Met Office has hit on is using direct current (DC) to power its servers rather than AC, to avoid the large losses of power during conversion from AC to DC, according to IT chief Steve Foreman, speaking at the Green IT ’09 conference in London, on Thursday.

“We take the power off the mains, put it through the UPS so it is goes to DC, convert it back to AC,step it up, step it down, move it around a bit, and then we take it down into the machines for the current required,” explained Foreman.

Instead, the department would like to be able to use DC current for its supercomputers and avoid the wasted energy.

“We are asking suppliers if there is any way we can reduce all that power loss so that we can just take DC out of the UPS [Uninterruptible Power Supply] and straight into the machines. We reckon we could save about 5 percent of our power use just by doing that and taking out those losses,” he said.

According to Foreman, the organisation is also looking at other ways to improve the efficiency of its high performance computing systems – used for weather modelling – such as increasing the temperature in its data centres.

“We are looking at increasing the temperature in some our computing halls by moving some of the more temperature sensitive machines out including tape drive systems,” he said.

The Met Office – whose skill at modelling air flows round the country is world-renowned – has also started to model the air flow around servers in its data centres, which should allow the temperature to be increased even more. “That will let us know where the hotspots are and the cool-spots so that we can distribute equipment accordingly,” said Foreman.

The department is also planning to refresh its desktops and plans to migrate the majority of machines used for administration away from traditional PCs to thin clients but hasn’t extended that to all the desktops in the organisation due to some resistance from scientific staff. “Our scientists persuaded us that they needed the power on the desktop,” he explained.

The organisation recently built a green data centre in Exeter which is now being fitted out with metering technology to accurately measure efficiencies. “We haven’t been keeping those records but we are now putting in technology to be able to prove it,” said Foreman.

However despite efforts made around improving the efficiency of its IT, Foreman admitted that overall, the electricity used by its supercomputers and other systems is actually still going up.

“Our supercomputers use something like 40 to 50 percent of our entire electricity usage in the organisation at the moment – that is about to go up to 80 percent,” he admitted. “Its going up because in order to provide more accurate weather information we need more computing power. We are getting more calculations per watt but the demand for calculations far exceeds the rate at which the suppliers are able to reduce the power power consumption.”