Aitken is housed in the initial module of the facility, located at a newly developed one-acre site that includes the infrastructure to support a total of 16 modules for computers and data storage. This expansion capability points to a significant benefit of using the modular approach: the ability to quickly construct additional modules and add computing power to meet changing priorities and new challenges for the agency.
The facility's first module uses an energy-efficient cooling technology uniquely suited to the San Francisco Bay Area's temperate weather. A combination of outdoor air, fan technology, and a circulating water system removes the heat generated by the computer's processors; two adiabatic coolers adjacent to the module send chilled water to the system's computer racks.
The new modular facility follows on the success of a prototype facility, built in 2016 and expanded in 2017, which houses NASA's Electra supercomputer. In fiscal 2018, the modular approach saved approximately 2 million kilowatt-hours of power and over 3 million gallons of water, when compared to what would be used if the hardware had been installed on NAS's traditional computer floor.
With NASA's ever-increasing demand for more computing resources, the modular supercomputing approach significantly reduces the annual water and energy consumption needed to maintain these systems. The resulting cost savings translate to purchasing power for additional capabilities to deliver world-class supercomputing for the more than 1500 users across the U.S. who rely on NASA high-end computing to make new scientific discoveries and expand human knowledge.