On the frontline of energy-efficient computing

Author: Paul Clark
Posted: 7 Jan 2019 | 15:14

The Advanced Computing Facility (ACF) on the outskirts of Edinburgh is the high performance computing data centre of EPCC.

Built in the 1970s and operated by EPCC since the turn of the millennium, the ACF site has had significant investment over the years. At present, there are three Computer Rooms, imaginatively called: Computer Room 1 (CR1), Computer Room 2 (CR2), and Computer Room 3 (CR3).

Each hosts specific HPC equipment and is supported by associated plant rooms which provide dedicated power and cooling infrastructure for each room. We have several pieces of equipment and racks at our site which are “traditionally” air cooled, but the majority of our equipment and speciality high-performance computers are water cooled.

Yes. Water and electricity!

Any data centre is an exercise in thermodynamics – a computer turns electrical energy into heat energy as it runs, which in turn has to be managed and cooled.  By utilising water to help with the cooling process of the machines, which is significantly more effective than air alone, the ACF is an extremely efficient data centre.

Thanks to the Scottish climate, for much of the year the ACF benefits from something called free cooling.  The water which supports our cooling infrastructure is pumped to our roof-mounted dry air cooling towers and back again, allowing the (cold!) outside temperature to cool our water as it passes through them. It is only on extremely warm summer days when there is no free cooling and we need to use our large-scale mechanical chillers to cool the water circuits.

Alongside the management of the data centre with our Data Centre Manager Calum Muir, I also have overall responsibility for the HPC Systems team who design, build, commission, host and support a number of HPC systems within the ACF, including the National Tier 1 and Tier 2 systems, ARCHER and Cirrus, to name a few.

We have the experience and skills to help continue to deliver future systems and projects, and relish working at the bleeding edge of technology and innovation.

As an example, the University of Edinburgh and EPCC will play a major role in the Edinburgh and South East Scotland City Region Deal by delivering the deal’s Data-Driven Innovation Programme.

At the heart of this programme is the World-Class Data Infrastructure (WCDI). This is the development and delivery of a new, state-of-the-art computer room at the ACF to accommodate the underpinning infrastructure for the City Region Deal.

This will be called, you’ve guessed it, Computer Room 4 (CR4)!

Look out for updates to this exciting project and the development of our future masterplan.

Image shows one of the ACF’s roof-mounted dry air cooling towers.

Author

Paul Clark, EPCC