"In the future, the 'Green 500' will be the important list, where computers are listed according to their efficiency," Dr. Bruno Michel of IBM's Zurich labs told the BBC. Now that the cost of a transistor comes out to about 1/100th of what it costs to print a single letter on a piece of paper, the cost of building supercomputers is no longer the problem. The problem is that running the machines, which require lots of energy to keep cool, is overwhelmingly expensive.
Michel and his team recently introduced a new prototype that they have been working on for some time to solve that very problem. The Aquasar, which IBM claims is nearly 50 percent more efficient than other supercomputers, is a series of processors stacked in piles that are cooled by water flowing around them.
Inspired by how the human body's circulatory system works, Michel and his team built efficient cooling channels for the water that are about the same size as a hair. By moving the processors closer together, the team has controlled size issues, speed issues and cost issues.
Another way to save money on cooling costs is to shrink the size of the computer.
Currently stored in a unit that is larger than a standard refrigerator, Michel hopes that his team will be able to dramatically reduce the size of the Aquasar. "We currently have built this Aquasar system that's one rack full of processors," Michel told the BBC. "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."