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Stanford Opens New Energy-Efficient Research Computing Center

Stanford University has opened the Stanford Research Computing Center (SRCC) to serve the computational needs of researchers through an energy-efficient shared facility.

The SRCC is located at the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory and has the capacity to house 180 refrigerator-sized racks of servers. Initially, the university has purchased 125 servers to be used as a shared computational resource for researchers throughout the university. The facility can support 3 megawatts of computing power, one third of which will go to the School of Medicine, one third to the SLAC and the remainder to other Stanford researchers.

The SRCC is designed to be energy efficient. Typically, it requires considerable power to keep so many servers cool enough to prevent overheating. However, the SRCC is using an entirely air-driven cooling system to maintain a 60-to-80 degree environment, potentially saving as much as $1 million a year in cooling costs, according to Ann Arvin, vice provost and dean of research at Stanford.

The cooling system draws in outside air through the roof. The relatively cool air then passes through industrial-sized fans to the server room, where "back-to-back rows of servers optimized for efficient airflow take the cool air in through their front, then send heated air out into a sealed alleyway between rows," which opens to an outlet in the building's roof, according to the university.

When the outside air temperature dips below 60 degrees, the system uses some of its heated air to raise the temperature of the incoming air, and "on hot days, cold water chills the air before it flows over the equipment."

The SRCC will provide a communal computing resource for the university's researchers, and co-locating the servers can provide more computing power than the same number of servers scattered throughout the university because computing resources can be re-allocated when not in use rather than sitting idle. And because the campus is connected by a high-speed network, physical distance from the SRCC won't slow computation speed.

According to the university, "computation is playing a growing role in faculty research." The SRCC will support a wide variety of research projects, including "understanding the origins of stars, studying how human populations evolve, modeling climate change, efficiently delivering energy, making jet travel more efficient, solving the mysteries of the brain, constructing models of the molecules that make up our bodies and mining the secrets contained in our DNA."

Further information about the SRCC can be found on Stanford's site.

About the Author

Leila Meyer is a technology writer based in British Columbia. She can be reached at leilameyer@gmail.com.

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