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Switching super-computers on to green power

Posted By Karin Kloosterman On August 12, 2009 @ 12:00 am In | No Comments

Israeli company Voltaire builds super-computer servers that deliver high performance at low power consumption – helping to green our computers.

Computers need resources. Whether it’s logging on at work, sending Tweets from the train station or powering big laboratory ideas, firing up all those communications devices requires juice. In the language of “green,” energy savings equal increased efficiency, and efficiency means less carbon-based pollution.

Israel’s Voltaire works with the top companies in the business, such as Oracle, Sun and IBM, to make servers and super-computers more energy efficient. Some 1,100 clients around the world use InfiniBand, Voltaire’s “switching” product that lets them connect together small servers so that they can scale up in accordance with their business and computing power needs.

Not long ago, as their needs increased, companies responded by buying bigger, faster and more expensive servers, often throwing out the old ones, or downgrading them to another unit. Another common solution was to connect smaller, cheaper servers together in parallel, adding more computers as a company grew.

The problem with the latter is that some 50 percent of the energy consumed goes to the computer servers as they communicate with each other in order to carry out their tasks.

As for the former solution: “In the last few years people have found that, on one side, they acquire new equipment but over the next two years will spend much more on operating it,” says Asaf Somekh, the VP of marketing for Voltaire.

Cooling is power, power is money

Using the Voltaire switch solution, companies may pay a little more in the beginning but the cost savings over time can be enormous. According to Somekh, his company’s product can increase the energy efficiency of a network from 50 to 80 percent.

“This is the key challenge today for our customers,” he tells ISRAEL21c. “It’s not about greening the planet but saving money on power, cooling and space. They want to know how they can use their space and budget and obviously when you say power, power and cooling go hand in hand.”

Featured in the Green500 report recently, Voltaire’s switching technology reduces energy consumption without compromising computing power.

The seven largest supercomputers in the world today use IBM’s BladeCenter servers which are connected with Voltaire’s Grid Director InfiniBand switches. These switches are built to deliver high performance along with low power consumption.

The company’s technology is at work with the largest petaflop supercomputer in the world at Las Alamos National Laboratory in the United States as well as with about 30% of the Fortune 100 companies, the most profitable companies in the world.

Moving up and scaling out

Voltaire is helping to green companies and projects involved in astrophysics, energy, pharmaceuticals and global-climate research. Using only five watts of power per port, the Voltaire switches are much more power-friendly than those of its major competitor, which consumes up to 100 watts of power per port, according to the company.

In Europe, for the past two years Voltaire has been considered one of the fastest growing tech companies. “All of this growth is fueled by the changing needs in data centers,” says Somekh. “People over the last 10 years have found out they can build much better and more efficient data centers – “scale out” technologies.”

Somekh compares this to the more costly and wasteful solution of “scaling up” when a company buys bigger and bigger servers: “People realized instead of bigger servers, they could buy data centers with small commodity servers and stack them together. So when they need more computers – they stack computers together. Voltaire is focused on this market,” he explains.

“At end of day, companies want to use their processors in the best possible way. . . we provide the network for scale out data centers and want to make sure that they are not losing CPU from the network itself,” he adds.

Traded on NASDAQ (VOLT), Voltaire was founded in 1997 by two Israeli engineers Amir Presher and Erez Diamond. Initially the company developed communications security products, but in 2000 it changed its business model.

Today the company is based in Ra’anana, Israel and has US headquarters in the Boston area. About 200 people, mostly in Israel, work for the company which made about $60 million in sales last year.


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