IBM claims world’s first 2 nanometre data centre chip
As high performance computing (HPC) continues to demand higher performance and denser computing infrastructure, semiconductor manufacturers are locked in an increasingly intense fight to deliver breakthrough after breakthrough.
This week, IBM may have gained itself the upper hand over other chipmakers like Intel and NVIDIA. The company that it has made a new breakthrough in semiconductor design, unveiling what it claims is the world’s first 2 nanometre (nm) node chip. To put that in persepctive, the smaller components of this chip are smaller than a single strand of DNA.
Close up on the individual switches in IBM's new 2nm chip - Courtesy of IBM
The potential benefits of the breakthrough could include quadrupling the battery life of cell phones - with IBM claiming that a smartphone using 2nm chip nodes would only require charging once every four days - drastically reducing the carbon footprint of data centres, and drastically boosting the performance of consumer electronics.
"The IBM innovation reflected in this new 2 nm chip is essential to the entire semiconductor and IT industry," said Darío Gil, SVP and Director of IBM Research. "It is the product of IBM's approach of taking on hard tech challenges and a demonstration of how breakthroughs can result from sustained investments and a collaborative R&D ecosystem approach."
IBM’s new nanosheet technology can apparently fit 50bn transistors onto a 150 mmsq chip.
That's a lot of transistors - Courtesy of IBM
Compared to 7nm chips currently on the market, IBM claims its 2nm designs are as much as 45% higher-performing, and use 75% less energy.
Whether this is actually the world’s “first” 2nm chip is actually something that is up for debate. As noted in Data Center Dynamics’ , the ways in which different companies quantify node measurements has diverged in recent years, as nodes have become smaller and smaller.
This week’s announcement comes “less than four years” after IBM developed its prototype 5nm chip technology. However, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing 2nm chips in smartphones any time soon, as IBM has yet to commercially launch its own 7nm chips. It plans to do so later this year.
It’s also entirely possible that 2nm is as small as chips will ever get. As semiconductors get smaller and smaller, the risk of electrons leaking from one part of the chip to another, even when its switches are off. In order to shrink its chips down to 2nm, Gil explained to that the IBM team was able to “drape sheets of insulating material just a few nanometers thick to stop leaks.”
He added: “In the end, there’s transistors, and everything else (in computing) relies on whether that transistor gets better or not. And it’s not a guarantee that there will be a transistor advance generation to generation anymore. So it’s a big deal every time we get a chance to say there will be another.”
DUG Technology planning carbon-free HPC data centre
On Tuesday, DUG Technology (formerly known as DownUnder GeoSolutions) announced plans to build another high performance computing (HPC) data centre in the town of Geraldton, Western Australia.
The new data centre will not only be DUG’s largest data centre project to date (the company already owns and operate supercomputers in Perth, London, Houston and Kuala Lumpur, with its Texas facility winning the top prize at the Data Centre Design Awards in 2019) but will also, according to the company, be the world’s first carbon-free data centre designed for HPC use.
The site will be one of the world’s largest HPC installations, with an initial compute capacity of more than 200 petaflops, and plans in place for expansion to “multi-exaflop scale” once the proposed ten data halls are commissioned. DUG’s board has budgeted AUD5mn for the project.
Most-interestingly, the site will be the first HPC data centre in the world to be entirely powered by renewable energy. The town of Geraldton was reportedly chosen by DUG due to its ideal climate for wind and solar power generation, a fact which is “rapidly” transforming the area into “one of the world’s premier renewable energy regions.”
“The goal for the campus is to be completely powered by renewables – to accelerate science while simultaneously helping clients achieve their carbon-reduction goals and meet environmental, social, and governance (ESG) requirements,” said a DUG spokesperson on Tuesday.
Giving back in the Outback
The facility, which is being built on land scheduled to pass into the ownership of the Yamatji Nation Trust later this year as part of the Yamatji Nation Indigenous Land Use Agreement, reportedly has the “full support” of the indiginous nation’s board. Part of the project also involves the provision of opportunities and training for Yamatji people.
“As demand for HPC continues to grow exponentially around the world we must invest in world-leading, carbon-free, cost-effective HPC solutions for our clients,” said Matt Lamont, CEO and founder of DUG. “We developed our award-winning DUG Cool immersion system to reduce the energy footprint of our data centres. Having the ability to utilise this technology at scale would solidify the Geraldton campus as the world standard in environmentally-friendly HPC.