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Feature Story | Mathematics and Computer Science Division

Beckman talks about the power problem facing exascale

A recent issue of HPCWire highlights comments by Argonne’s Pete Beckman about the issues facing designers of exascale architectures.

One of the most pressing issues, according to Beckman, codirector of the Northwestern-Argonne Institute of Science and Engineering, is power.

Beckman noted that the Blue Gene/Q system currently operated by Argonne consumes approximately 4 MW of power. To reach exascale will require 16 times that, or 64 MW. At an estimated cost of $1 million per megawatt per year, this would mean $64 million a year – clearly a prohibitive expense.

The article cites Beckman as saying, Unless there is a revolution of some sort, we really can’t get off the curve that is heading towards a 64 MW supercomputer. It’s about power, both in the number of chips and the total dissipation of each of chips.”

But Beckman quickly added that researchers worldwide have initiated exascale projects that are addressing both the power demands and other challenges. In particular, he emphasized that Argonne is building codesign teams to explore new approaches to system software, fault tolerance, and programming models for extreme-scale computers and is holding intensive summer schools to train the next generation of high-performance computing users.