How Singapore’s supercomputers stay environmentally friendly

By Pure Storage

Pure Storage explains how data centres can stay sustainable while taking on massive tasks.

In 1946, a small column in The New York Times revealed ENIAC, the Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer. Designed to help the military with complex calculations, ENIAC is considered to be among the world’s first supercomputers, wrote EnterpriseAI.

Supercomputers today are used to study the nature of the universe, predict weather patterns and study the effects of a nuclear explosion. While these supercomputers can be enormously productive, the amount of energy they consume can take a toll on the environment.

Pure Storage explains how a supercomputer system of a Singapore university was able to boost productivity while reducing emissions and energy consumption.

The supercomputer challenge

Nanyang Technological University (NTU) was using a supercomputer to help with research projects such as genome sequencing and weather analysis.

“If we looked at one genome a week, it would take us 20 years to cover 1,000 species,” said Assistant Professor Jarkko Salojarvi, whose team studies plant DNA. His team needed to be able to run multiple analyses at one time, he explained.

While needing to increase the productivity of their supercomputer, NTU also recognised that it must adhere to sustainability standards and the university’s commitment to being green.

Making the change to flash storage

NTU decided to implement flash systems into their supercomputing systems. Flash data storage is an alternative to legacy disk systems, offering a smaller package that can manage more tasks while using less energy.

After the change, Professor Salojarvi’s team were able to run up to four jobs in parallel. The team could complete more than 550 tasks in just 18 months, whereas they would have only been able to finish less than 100 if they had not used flash systems.

The faster speed of analysis allowed them to focus on new areas and go into more detail in their work, ultimately sharing their data with other research teams at an improved rate, according to Pure Storage.

The flash systems also helped the university with its goals for sustainability. Their data centre required less energy and less cooling, reducing the data centre’s overall power consumption and minimising emissions.

Because flash storage uses less space than spinning disk systems, less energy is required to meet improved productivity standards. Because flash systems are also smaller than their legacy counteraps, physical space was freed up for the university to use for other purposes.

After implementing flash systems, “we are confident that we’ll be able to meet the increasing demand for supercomputing resources”, said Alvin Ong, Chief Information Officer, NTU Singapore.

While productivity will meet increasing demand, the flash storage systems still allow the university to keep “walking the talk when it comes to protecting the environment”, he continued.

The global issues ahead

While NTU has shown the difference that one data centre can make on the environment, it is important to recognise the wider impact of similar systems being used across the world.

Data centres require sizeable amounts of energy to operate “especially for power-intensive applications like artificial intelligence and business analytics” said Chua Hock Leng, Vice President of ASEAN & Greater China at Pure Storage.

The International Energy Agency estimates that data centres currently use one per cent of the world’s electricity, and this number is expected to rise to at least 10 per cent by 2030. Making data centres more green is a key initiative in the battle against climate change.

How Pure Storage can help

Pure Storage specialises in helping organisations transition to flash storage. They shared their findings on the benefits that these changes brought.

By implementing flash systems, organisations were found to have saved 4 billion kWh of electricity. The amount of emissions saved was equivalent to a car driving 7 billion miles, Pure Storage reported.

A single flash system uses as much energy as a toaster. Whereas legacy data systems on average use as much energy as two clothes dryers, it explained.

Flash systems were also found to take up 96 per cent less space than legacy spinning disk systems. The total amount of space saved by organisations that implemented these systems is equivalent to 95 basketball courts.

When it comes to financial costs, Pure Storage was able to help organisations save US$2 billion on the costs of hosting their systems. Another US$500m was saved by reducing the costs of cooling and powering data centres, they reported.

Transitioning to flash systems will reduce emissions without harming profit and productivity. While governments are seen to be responsible for tackling global issues, individual organisations have a clear path on how to do their bit for the environment.

Lead image from Nanyang Technological University Facebook page