IBM working towards supercomputers the size of sugar cubes

IBM has revealed that technology it is working on could reduce supercomputers to the size of a sugar cube, significantly reducing the costs of running them as well as the risk of losing them in your morning coffee.

The reduction in size will come from improving energy efficiency in supercomputing, according to Dr. Bruno Michel, a researcher at IBM’s Zurich Research Laboratory.

Size and cost of computers has dramatically decreased, supporting a trend known as Moore’s Law, but supercomputers still remain too large and use far too much energy.

Recent research at the University of Warwick revealed that next-generation supercomputers with a processing power of 1 exaflop would require the same energy as a small town to operate, which simply is not sustainable long-term. 

That is set to change with IBM’s Aquasar prototype. Aside from sounding like a Pokemon, it can process 1.1 trillion operations for a single watt of power, compared to the 770 million operations the current leading supercomputers can process for the same amount of power.

Aquasar uses water cooling as a primary means for reducing power usage and size, citing that water can hold 4,000 times the amount of waste heat than a similar volume of air. This will help reduce the overall size of supercomputers, but they must also be built to be water-resistant, which could increase initial costs.

“We currently have built this Aquasar system that’s one rack full of processors,” said Michel. “We plan that 10 to 15 years from now, we can collapse such a system in to one sugar cube – we’re going to have a supercomputer in a sugar cube.”