HLRS Discusses Sustainability in HPC Centers at Nachhaltigkeitstage 2018

30 July 2018

For the fifth consecutive year, the High-Performance Computing Center Stuttgart (HLRS) organized an outreach event as part of N!-Tage 2018 in Baden-Württemberg.

This year‘s Nachhaltigkeitstage (Sustainability Days) at the University of Stuttgart took place June 7-8, 2018 in Stuttgart as part of the statewide N!-Tage, a program designed to showcase efforts across Baden-Württemberg to improve sustainability. Following the success of the Nachhaltigkeitstage in 2014-2017, HLRS continued networking its sustainability efforts by bringing together other related initiatives at the University. For HLRS, Nachhaltigkeitstage also offered an opportunity to present its sustainability efforts to the University of Stuttgart community.

“With the Nachhaltigkeitstage we want to demonstrate that sustainable action has to be an overarching goal that is based on a common conviction and will benefit all parties involved in the long run,” says Sabine Eger, a member of the HLRS sustainability team.

Sustainability has become an increasingly important issue in high-performance computing (HPC). The power consumption in HPC centers is enormous and keeps increasing, as the demand for computing power and memory is consistently high. At HLRS, the biggest power consumer is the supercomputer, including its computing hardware as well as other necessary technologies for cooling, ventilation, and providing an uninterrupted power supply. Other issues include water usage for the cooling system and pollution, as chemicals are added to the water to prevent growth of bacteria and algae.

In 2017, Nachhaltigkeitstag was held on a single day on the Vaihingen campus. This year the event was spread over two days and part of the event was held on the city center campus to reach a wider audience. It featured specialists from across the University who gave lectures on sustainability challenges and solutions.

In the first talk, Prof. Dr. Peter Radgen of the Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use and the Graduate and Research School for Energy Efficiency Stuttgart described the challenges of waste-heat utilization in computing centers and outlined possible solutions. The talk focused on how to capture the waste heat emitted from the computer and use it to heat buildings. Dr. Elke Uhl of the Internationales Zentrum für Kultur- und Technikforschung followed with a presentation on how to create a sustainability dialogue between science and society. In the last lecture of the day, Dr. Brigitte-Maria Lorenz of HLRS presented the HLRS sustainability concept, which embraces a comprehensive approach involving environmental, economic, and social dimensions of sustainability. Currently, HLRS is applying for certification under the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), which requires continual improvement of ecological efforts, legal compliance, engagement with employees, and public communication.

After the talks, the student initiatives Crossing Borders Stuttgart e.V., Stuttgarter Change Labs, and Greening Stuttgart presented their goals and projects. To conclude the day, Crossing Borders offered a 30-minute workshop on resource distribution and its consequences.

The second part of the two-day event took place at HLRS. The day opened with a talk by Dirk Turek of the Institute of Energy Economics and Rational Energy Use, who described opportunities for improving sustainability in computing centers, including using renewable energy sources, switching from alternating current to direct current for power, and avoiding the use of "zombie servers" that run constantly but rarely execute any calculations. In the next talk, Michael Kaminski-Nissen of Bundesdeutscher Arbeitskreis für Umweltbewusstes Management e.V. (B.A.U.M.) explained the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how they are being applied in companies and organizations. Harald Hentze, Energy Manager at the University of Stuttgart, followed by describing the sustainability measures implemented at the University, which have improved the University’s ecological balance and help save energy costs of more than €3 million each year. Björn Dick of the HLRS Department of Numerical Methods & Libraries rounded off the event by discussing some ways in which software running on supercomputers can be designed to be more energy-efficient. After the talks HLRS offered tours of its computing room and visualization room.

Amelie Liebgott