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The NWSC was designed with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind, setting it up to be 89% more efficient than typical data centers, and up to 10% more efficient than state of the art facilities operating today. Almost 92% of the NWSC energy is going directly to its core purpose as a data center: powering supercomputers to enable scientific discovery.
The NWSC achieves its efficiency gains through a regionally integrated, whole-building approach. One of the most significant advantages is that the NWSC is designed from the ground up around its mission, which allows it to be more efficient than retrofitting existing buildings. NCAR estimates that the NWSC will be four times more efficient than the Mesa Laboratory computing facility.
The design also capitalizes on other key elements, in particular Wyoming's climatology, which allows for natural cooling during 96% of the year, and the availability of renewable energy resources. The NWSC will run on at least 10% renewable energy from wind, twice the current national average. The center’s office spaces will be 60% more efficient than typical offices, and will consume less than 0.1% of the energy used on site.
Data center efficiency is measured with something called the Power Usage Effectiveness (PUE) metric. PUE reflects how much of the facility's power consumption is used for the primary computing purpose, as opposed to support functions like cooling. PUE is defined as the ratio of the total power consumed by a data center to the power consumed by the IT equipment of the facility:
The NWSC’s PUE index is designed to be under 1.1. This means that only 10% of energy for the entire complex will go to functions outside of the computing itself. Typical modern data centers have a PUE index around 1.5 with many facilities operating at 2.0.
The NWSC design incorporates numerous resource conservation features to reduce its impact. Recycled and locally sourced materials were used in its construction, and a majority of the construction waste was recycled as well. Water consumption at the NWSC will be reduced by about 4.2 million gallons per year by recycling water, and by using innovative technology and high efficiency fixtures. The NWSC will also rely on daylighting to reduce energy consumption. Waste heat is recycled throughout the building, to heat the office spaces and melt ice and snow on exterior walkways in the winter.
The NWSC is the result of a partnership between University Corporation for Atmospheric Research (UCAR), the State of Wyoming, the University of Wyoming, Cheyenne LEADS, Wyoming Business Council, Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power Company. The NWSC is operated by the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation.
The NWSC’s first supercomputer is called Yellowstone, named after the world’s first established national park, and in honor of Wyoming’s important role in making the NWSC a reality. This machine is capable of 1.5 quadrillion calculations per second—or, in computing terms, 1.5 petaflops. “FLOPS” stands for “floating point operations per second.”