Supercomputers, mega-computers located at national laboratory sites that can process calculations in a matter of nanoseconds, are currently processing information that may solve many of the biggest problems humanity faces. There are supercomputers running calculations regarding climate change, world hunger and endless scientific pursuits.

NASA of course uses supercomputers for its research. A new modular supercomputing system called Electra at the Ames Research Center is helping the agency to plan its missions as well as also greatly reducing the impact of all those calculations.

The Electra system uses a fan technology that uses less than 10 percent of the energy of mechanical refrigeration systems in place at other supercomputing facilities. The system will save about 1 million kWh of electricity every year — the equivalent of 90 households — and 1.3 million gallons of water every year.

“This is a different way for NASA to do supercomputing in a cost-effective manner,” said Bill Thigpen, chief of the Advanced Computing Branch at Ames’ NASA Advanced Supercomputing (NAS) facility. “It makes it possible for us to be flexible and add computing resources as needed, and we can save about $35 million dollars—about half the cost of building another big facility.”

The system is made of container modules that can be added or removed depending on how much computer power is needed all without interrupting operations. The research demand for the new system has led NASA to consider adding 16 times the current capability.

Scientists from around the country can log on to the system for research support and choosing this system over other older systems will result in major energy and water savings.

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