4 Data Center Factors that Matter for High Performance Computing Environments

To out-compute is to out-compete. Put another way, a company’s competitiveness depends on its ability to process a lot of data, very fast. But not every data center environment is suited to support high performance computing. Here, the four data center factors that matter for HPC environments. Because you can’t out-compete if you can’t out-compute, and you can’t out-compute if your data center isn’t set up to handle HPC.

4 Data Center Factors that Matter for High Performance Computing Environments

1. Density

Most legacy data centers are simply not set up to accommodate higher densities. Traditional raised-floor data centers can accommodate densities up to about 3-5 kW per rack. A modular data center built to suit high-density, in contrast, can accommodate densities up to about 30 kW per rack. (Learn more: Scaling Capacity is Easy in a Mixed Density Data Center.)

Forrester explains, “[IT infrastructure and operations] pros have told Forrester on several occasions that converged infrastructure offerings are more power-intensive and require more cooling than their data center is prepared to handle.” Indeed, IDC reports that the worldwide “Petascale Race” is creating “major” challenges for data centers. “An environment made of tons of pizza-box servers to cover the increasing compute requirements will lead to an explosion of unwieldy IT management costs and data center management headache,” writes Nick Booth in CloudPro.

But that’s not inevitable. A high density environment architected specifically for HPC can be an efficient, effective alternative to “tons of pizza-box servers.” In particular, a prefabricated modular (PFM) data center can suit high densities. 451 Research explains: “Prefabrication has inherent design and scalability advantages in supporting high rack densities cost-effectively and in an energy-efficient fashion. Investments in advanced aerodynamic optimizations, granular scalability and dynamically regulated multimode cooling systems – all integrated into the design – help PFM data centers to gain an edge over traditional builds.”

2. Scalability

Are you likely to need additional compute capacity again in the near future? As the program manager for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory’s high performance computing facility explains, “We want to get out of doing construction over and over, and just build what we need when we need it…so as the HPC technology changes, we can adapt.” (For that HPC facility, modular was the model of choice to “future proof” the data center.)

3. Efficiency

A high-density server rack consuming 25 kW of power is obviously more power-intensive and cooling-intensive than a low-density server rack consuming 5 kW of power. But when high performance computing applications are set up to run on a cluster of low-density server racks, spread out over a larger data center footprint, the environment actually requires more power and more cooling. Data center expert Mark Thiele explains: “In fact, even the airflow management (ducting, etc.) when done effectively doesn’t need to change significantly regardless of density, it’s the ability to cycle the right amount of air to and from the correct locations that matters.”

So energy efficiency – and the resulting cost savings – is a significant advantage of a modular data center built to suit high densities. In a yearlong, side-by-side comparison of a traditional raised-floor data center and a modular data center, the modular data center was found to have a PUE (power usage efficiency) of 1.41, significantly better than the 1.73 PUE of the traditional data center. For a 1 MW facility, that PUE difference yielded a 19 percent reduction in energy costs.

According to an article published in American Banker, featuring Bank of America technology infrastructure executive David Reilly, “The modular data center will turn the idea of a data center on its head, Reilly says. ‘You can deploy much faster, in much smaller units,’ and energy costs can be saved because the bank is only cooling or heating smaller contained areas rather than an entire cavernous building.”

4. Security

The ability to compartmentalize HPC applications is another advantage of the modular data center. In a traditional raised-floor data center environment, your high performance computing applications may be sharing space with the organization’s other IT applications; the university email system, for example, might be right next to the HPC cluster. In a modular data center, in contrast, applications can be physically segregated to protect for HPC applications from unauthorized access.

A mini case study

A financial services firm needed to add more compute capacity in 30 days or fewer. Their complex computing needs were outstripping the capability of their current environment, and the firm risked being out-competed. The company, wanting to push rack density to 25-30 kW to squeeze more compute out of their existing hardware, found that legacy data center providers were: a) unable to support such high densities; and b) unable to meet demand in less than a month.

Turning to IO, the financial services firm was able to increase rack density to its target and do it in less than 30 days. Among the benefits the firm has realized are:

  • Energy efficiency – 120 racks consume approximately 25-30 kW per rack in a modular deployment with no additional rack cooling
  • Space savings – Where a traditional data center might require 3,000 sq. ft. or more, the modular data center can support the firm’s HPC requirements in 462 sq. ft.
  • Security – The firm maintains privacy and control of its applications and devices inside a secure module – a “data center within a data center”
  • Competitive advantage – The company remains ahead of the competition with massive compute capability with room to grow

You can’t out-compete if you can’t out-compute, and you can’t out-compute if your data center isn’t set up to handle HPC. Can your data center support HPC? Density, scalability, efficiency, and security are four key factors to consider.


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