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Supercomputing United States Hardware Technology

DARPA Wants a 19" Super-Efficient Supercomputer 200

Posted by timothy
from the as-do-we-all dept.
coondoggie writes "If you can squish all the processing power of, say, an IBM Roadrunner supercomputer inside a 19-inch box and make it run on about 60 kilowatts of electricity, the government wants to talk to you. The extreme scientists at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency this week issued a call for research that might develop a super-small, super-efficient super beast of a computer. Specifically, DARPA's desires for Ubiquitous High Performance Computing (UHPC) will require a new system-wide technology approach including hardware and software co-design to minimize energy dissipation per operation and maximize energy efficiency, with a 50GFLOPS per watt goal."
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DARPA Wants a 19" Super-Efficient Supercomputer

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  • by Karganeth (1017580) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @05:47PM (#28498063)
    ...They're EXTREME scientists!
  • You must be joking. That's like packing in 30 2KW electric fan heaters into a rack, obstructing the airflow with a ton of other junk and praying it won't melt. Good luck with that.

    • A KW of heating power is a lot different from a KW of processing power I imagine. Especially if some of that power is for refridgeration.

      • Expended energy always becomes waste heat. There's not much difference between drawing 500 watts in a space heater and drawing it with some other appliance from a heating perspective unless the appliance absorbs energy in some way (such as boiling water).

        Even with a fridge.

    • It's not so far fetched I think. Look at those tiny tiny little cores on your processor die. No, that's the cache, look harder. Wayyy down there.
    • I think it is doable. The whole machine must be air-cooled but nothing in the RFP says that liquid cooling could not be used internally.

      • by inKubus (199753)

        Exactly, and you could use something with a high density like molten lead in titanium pipes to move the heat off the chips. And by chips I mean a single piece of silicon 19" wide and 24" deep. That's going to be the only way to do it with today's tech.. I mean, according to this [ibm.com], the PowerXCell 8i die size is 212mm^2 and they do about 100GFLOPS each. So to hit 1PFLOP, which is 1000000GFLOPS, you'd need 10000x212mm or 212000cm^2 or 2120m^2 of silicon. The aforementioned 19x24" chips would be 2207cm^2 ea

        • by inKubus (199753)

          Incidentally, 960KW = about 909 btu's per second. 1 ton of refrigeration can move 3.333 btu per second meaning you would need 273 tons of cooling for the rack just to keep up.

        • No need for such extreme measures.

    • by Dutch Gun (899105)

      You know... all they have to do is wait 10 years and they can just pick up a few Playstation 5's or Xbox 4's from Wal-Mart to do the job. In case they didn't realize, all those nifty bullet-points are highly desirable things for computers in both the consumer and commercial markets as well:

      * Highly efficient energy usage
      * New systems and programming models to develop for massively concurrent processing
      * Highly fault-tolerant

      Advanced computer technology is something that the market is pushing ahead at a phe

  • by Gruturo (141223) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @05:50PM (#28498089)

    It's a 19" _rack_, not _box_. As in, the standard (non-telco) datacenter rack size, accomodating up to 42U, 19" wide.

  • No problem (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday June 27, 2009 @05:51PM (#28498105)

    Just stick a human brain in a bucket. It's small, quiet, cool and just feed it a Cheeto every once in a while to keep it running.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Jeremy Erwin (2054)

      Well, since Darpa also wants the operating system to be self aware, that's a start.

    • Re:No problem (Score:5, Interesting)

      by oneirophrenos (1500619) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @06:41PM (#28498479)

      Just stick a human brain in a bucket. It's small, quiet, cool and just feed it a Cheeto every once in a while to keep it running.

      And since the human brain has a computational power of 100 petaflops at 20 watts [movementarian.com], it'd well exceed DARPA's requirements.

      • by Kjella (173770) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @06:49PM (#28498549) Homepage

        And since the human brain has a computational power of 100 petaflops at 20 watts, it'd well exceed DARPA's requirements.

        Only before you subtract the power used to think about pr0n. Or you can use a female brain, it'll no nuclear on you only once a month.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by dkleinsc (563838)

          What happens if we use an Ab Normal brain?

        • Uhhhmm, removing the female brain from the female body precludes the nooclear monthly. Or, is that the monthly nooclear? Whatever - no hormones, no nookie.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        It's interesting how the "estimated computational power of the brain" seems to increase every few years to keep it very far ahead of the fastest supercomputer of the time.

      • by weicco (645927)

        Unless we are talking about these [wikia.com] who an earth would like to stand in 19" rack for the whole business day!

    • Just stick a human brain in a bucket.

      Yeah, we tried that already . . . but brains in buckets tend to attract too many zombies . . . you end up spending way to much money on ammunition for gun shots to the zombie heads . . . though, the sysops seem to love the action.

  • by jack2000 (1178961) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @05:53PM (#28498123)
    Supercool that fucker! That might help a lot!
    • Which only shifts the heat to somewhere else, by using power, creating even more heat.
      I don't think that is what they want. ^^

  • Is that all they're allowing? Power nazis.

  • If could be put at near 0 K (and the power to maintain that temperature is not counted) maybe a superconducing supercomputer could get that speed in that size.
  • Do you think id admit it and have the Feds take it from me for nothing and classify it? No thanks.

    And for the record, it wouldn't be that hard to do, as long as you wanted a semi-dedicated supercomputer and not a general purpose box.. But no, i wont tell you how, even if i was authorized.

  • Pack thermionic converters between the components. They'll help cool and recover some power from heat back to power. They can be on the board, or placed on a cover over it in such a way as to fit between the board components. http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2001/electricity-1205.html [mit.edu]

    Build in parallel processing with 16 processors, 4 on each side of a 4D-cube, as in the Connection Machine http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Connection_Machine [wikipedia.org]

    Three boards, stacked. Top, thermionics on the underside fitting between the

    • by jank1887 (815982)

      thermionics or thermoelectrics: either cool or recover power. you won't do both. And you'll add more net heat in the box if used for cooling. If you can keep that heat away from critical components, there may be a net benefit. If you use it to recover power, it'll have to be in the thermal path and will increase the thermal bottleneck in getting heat out. So you're recovered power comes at the cost of hotter heat generating components.

  • What about the NVIDIA Cuda architecture? They claim it is a super computer for under 10 grand and doesn't require special power requirements. But, I wonder if it will only perform as a super computer for graphics ....
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by stevelinton (4044)

      I imagine they will build something along those lines. Lots of highly specialised cores that can do Floating Point really well if it carefully compiled for them; some switches for some fast short-range network protocol probably and a few general purpose cores to manage things. Maybe some field-programmable components so that you can customise the hardware for new applications. The current nVidia Tesla series achieves around 1GFLOP per Watt, and you can get 1 TFLOP, consuming 1 KW per U, (ignoring host proce

      • Careful Compilation?

        â Develop new technologies and execution models that do not require application programmers to explicitly manage system complexity, in terms of architectural attributes with respect to data locality and concurrency, to achieve their performance and time to solution goals - programmability.

        Billion way parallelism is also mentioned. So. It has to be easy to program

    • You're missing the point-- Darpa feels that it is ill served by current commodity supercomputers, and wants something revolutionary. The deadline for delivery is in 2017, so it's unlikely that today's tech comes close.

  • by DrBuzzo (913503) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @06:45PM (#28498515) Homepage
    Just make a really really really tall 19 inch cabinet.
  • by sabre86 (730704) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @06:51PM (#28498565)
    This combination of power required and volume would allow essentially for current day supercomputer in every single military vehicle, assuming the weight and heat exhaust constraints aren't too onerous. 60 kW is about 80 horsepower and even a 19 in x 19 in x 19 in cube is only about 4 cubic feet*, which is less than than the trunk space on a Mazda Miata (5.1 cubic ft for a 2006 model), so it's within the space-power envelope of a small sports car, albeit the engine would need to be uprated some to account for the power drain.

    Having such great computational power available to every single vehicle would open up a huge realm of possibilities: Combine it with sensors you could detect damage and minimize its effects by comparing the vehicle's response to a detailed finite element model. You could do on the fly aerodynamic analysis, allowing a fighter to keep performing to it's best even after damage has significantly altered it's shape. You could manage the control of thousands of actuators, allowing you to create a shapeshifting walker out of programmable matter [wikipedia.org], and you could definitely do learning/optimization algorithms that would allow for an AI capable of a significant amount of learning. Combine this with the amount of image processing it could do, and you're very near a completely autonomous, smart enough combat vehicle.

    While it's a too big for a man portable system, with work, you could fit such a device (and a power source) into something as small as a motorcycle or a somewhat scaled up iRobot Warrior [irobot.com]. That's not much more than man sized. It may not be a T-800, that much computation in that small size and power envelope is enough build a near-man sized autonomous fighting vehicle that can see, learn and adapt with an endurance on gas of several hours. It's a bit frightening to consider.

    --sabre86
  • by gmuslera (3436) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @06:51PM (#28498567) Homepage Journal
    Just stay around girls called Sarah Connor. A supercomputer of around that size will appear eventually, and you will take as bonus a portable nuclear reactor, and a somewhat aggressive AI. Be sure to erase memory because it surely will contain a nasty trojan horse.
  • playstation 4

  • My 19" laptop has a super man logo on it...
  • BEOWULF! (Score:2, Funny)

    by dandart (1274360)
    But will it run Crysis? But in all seriousness, BEOWULF OF DSs!
  • Why would DARPA want this? Maybe they want a AI that can navigate aircraft or gound vehicles? BTW, I think it's ironic that autonomous operation seems easier to develop for aircraft than for ground vehicles when you consider that pilots get way more respect than the average municipal bus driver.

    BTM

  • Hmmmm (Score:5, Funny)

    by the eric conspiracy (20178) on Saturday June 27, 2009 @08:37PM (#28499261)

    So now we know what the hardware requirements for Windows 10 are going to be.

    • Maybe that will work, but you'll have to turn Aero 5 off. And, of course, you'll be limited to 3 apps.
      • by selven (1556643)
        And no, you cannot make one of the apps a virtual machine that lets you wish for three more wishes.
  • Given this is the government would I still get funding if I developed a computer that was capable of 50 Gwatts per FLOP?

  • I'm pretty sure it can be done easily, make robotic legs that can run... use less than 60KW.... and put a Roadruner supercomputer in a 19"X19" box that goes as high as it can... and there you go!

    get rich or die trying!

  • by Jacques Chester (151652) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @12:07AM (#28500827)

    A firm called SiCortex was selling just this sort of compact, energy-efficient supercomputer. They shut down a few weeks ago because an investor pulled out.

    It's a damn shame, they had really cool stuff. If I was Johnathon Schwartz I wouldn't have pissed away $1 billion on MySQL (it was worth maybe $10 and a stick of gum), I would have been out the front of SiCortex banging on the door with a chequebook.

    Oh well.

    • The SiCortex website mentions their top of the line machine using about 900mW per 1.4GFlop processor (1.55Glop/W), but the overall system uses 20KW for a 5832 processor system, giving a system figure of (5832 * 1.4) / 20,000 = 0.40GFlop/W.

      http://www.pathscale.com/products/high_capability_system_sc5832 [pathscale.com]

      Now, consider that DARPA wants 50GFlop/W - a factor of 100x improvement over the SiCortex number.

      So, I'd hardly classify SiCortex's products, cool as they may be, as "just this sort" of energy-efficient superco

  • Forget about computing FLOPS and instead first consider this a thermodynamic problem.

    Solve the thermodynamics, find a little space for CPU cores, solved.

  • by bertok (226922) on Sunday June 28, 2009 @05:05AM (#28502037)

    This is actually probably quite doable, but would be filthy expensive.

    Most people don't realize, but digital electronics is way, WAY ahead of what you get in your home PC, if you're willing to pony up the cash.

    For example, non-Silicon based semiconductors often outperform the good old standard stuff significantly. Silicon is by no means the fastest, it's just the cheapest. Gallium Arsenide and Indium-based materials can both clock many gigahertz higher than Silicion for the same process size and power dissipation. They're toxic, fragile, and the largest wafer sizes are tiny, so not exactly mainstream, but available now.

    The real performance king though is the Rapid Single Flux Quantum [wikipedia.org] process, which can go over 100 GHz easily. It's used in things like radio telescope amplifiers and high-performance DSPs for military radar. Sure, it requires liquid helium cooling, but it also only requires milliwatts per gigaflop, so it's just about the only technology that'll let you squeeze a petaflop into a box and not have it melt into slag. That still means you'd need something like a kilowatt of cryogenic cooling, which is nontrivial, but still, I'd say it's doable with a bit of engineering wizardry.

  • Just for some reference, an Intel Core 2 Quad can throw down about 50 gflops, but it runs on 95-130 Watts of power. To even come close to this 50GFLOPW number, you'd be designing your own HPC chips for sure.

    http://www.pctechguide.com/26quadCore.htm [pctechguide.com]

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