PORTLAND, Ore.—To achieve the exascale speeds necessary for the realtime analysis of the Big Data streaming in from the massive sensor networks of the future—such as the Square Kilometer Array (SKA) radio telescope to be completed in 2024—IBM is exploring the use of "electronic blood" to not only cool but also to power the cognitive computers of the future.
"We are taking a new approach inspired by the brain," said IBM Research scientist Bruno Michel. "Neurons are both cooled and powered by the blood, and by copying this packaging technique in the brain we hope to achieve a 5,000-times energy efficiency improvement by compacting the volume of our devices by several million times."
IBM announced Monday (March 11) that the South African government's National Research Foundation is joining it and the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy (NIRA) in the Dome collaborative research project to pioneer the technologies needed to perform realtime analytics on the exascale Big Data streams coming in from a massive array of radio telescope dishes being installed across a 1,824 mile swath of remote Australia desert.
The South African contribution to the project, called SKA South Africa, will be to host 64 prototype dishes there as well as to assist IBM and Astron in creating the computing infrastructure to analyze exabytes of streaming data in realtime. Working at the newly established Astron and IBM Center for Exascale Technology (Drenthe, the Netherlands) the Dome researchers are aiming for cognitive computing technologies that not only learn and reason like the human brain, but which likewise leverage its energy efficiency.
"If you analyze a typical microchip, only one part per million is used for transistors that perform its functions, while 98 percent is used for cooling. But in the brain, 40 percent of its volume is performing functions, 50 percent is interconnections, and only 10 percent is used for cooling," said Michel. "We want to produce computers closer to this ratio."
The liquid coolant used will also be the electrolyte of a flow-battery that provides charged ions to the 3-D chips. The coolant/electrolyte will flow in channels between each stacked die, whose fins will also serve as the electrodes of the flow battery. After flowing through the 3-D chip stack, the fluid will return to a central repository where it is cooled down and recharged before flowing back into chips.
The Dome team will be prototyping microservers using these liquid-cooled and -powered 3-D chip stacks in order to process signals from SKA's dishes with the aim of producing images of unparalleled resolution, hopefully enabling scientists to peer back in time to the faint signals still propagating from the Big Bang. And since the amount of data streaming in from SKA will exceed the total traffic on the Internet, the project aims to eventually provide the exascale data processing power for future cognitive computers processing all sorts of business, financial and healthcare data worldwide.