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Note : The content of this page is largely drawn from the French language article Colosse de Québec on Wikipedia.



Colosse is a supercomputer located in the concrete silo that used to house Laval Université's Van de Graaff generator. Designed starting in January, 2007 and inaugurated in June, 2009, Colosse possesses a unique architecture. Using three vertically superimposed floors, it can contain up to 56 server racks. On each floor, the racks are aligned around a circle, forming a ring that separates a single warm column in the centre and a cool column around the periphery. Made out of grating, the floors of Colosse ensure the free circulation of air between the levels, thereby forming two vertical plenums: a cylindrical plenum of warm air and an annular plenum of cool air.


Built during the 1960s, the Van de Graaff generator located on the campus of the Université Laval was still operating in 2006, though completely obsolete for research. The university had wanted to decommission this nuclear installation for several years and wondered what to do with the silo which was in bad shape.

In 2005 the Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) announced its new program for a national platform whose first realization was to be high-performance computing. The CLUMEQ project - the consortium which grouped together McGill, Laval and the Université du Québec network - was to develop a conventional machine room with raised floors in the accelerator target room, a large room in the silo's basement where physicists had carried out their experiments.

After a visit to the silo by Marc Parizeau and Nicolas Dubé in 2007 a slightly mad idea arose - install the supercomputer in the silo itself rather than the target room, by placing the server racks in a circle on several floors. This would result in a cylindrical topology where the cylinder's core would correspond to a single warm aisle and the peripheral annulus would correspond to a unique cool aisle. The logic behind this concept was based on several rationales:

  • eliminate corners to avoid turbulence;
  • reduce the air velocity by maximizing the floor's free surface;
  • minimize the cable length for the networking.

This innovative idea which had never been implemented before included nevertheless several challenges that had to be overcome. In total, a dozen distinct designs were studied over the course of a year before settling on a final concept.

Despite these obstacles, the design team was able to converge on a final design and the preparation of blueprints and cost estimate began in January, 2008. This lasted around five months and concluded with the release of an RFP in June. A general contractor (Construction Marc Drolet Inc.) was selected in August, 2008 and the construction started in September, 2008 and was completed in May, 2009.

Cooling System

To cool the server racks, Colosse has two complementary systems. The first, situated in the basement is connected to the campus cold water supply. It allows the air of the warm air plenum to circulate towards the cool air plenum by having it pass through the coils where the cold water is circulating. The heat contained in the air is then transferred to water and returned to the campus energy plant. The second system is situated above the third floor and allows fresh air from the exterior to be injected into the cool air plenum, while eliminating an equal volume of warm air. It's the same kind of fresh air supply system that can be found in any building but sized up to be able to take advantage of the favourable climatic conditions that prevail in Quebec City.

These two systems are complementary because they're used during different periods of the year. The first system is useful during warmer months, when exterior climatic conditions are unfavourable (temperature or humidity). It's also useful however during the winter when the campus is in great need of heating. The campus energy plant also manages a hot water loop which is used to heat the buildings. During the winter the cost of producing cold water is very minimal compared to hot water because the energy plant uses the exterior cold to cool its water. The heat produced by the IT equipment is therefor transferred when water returns from the cold water loop to the hot water loop by means of heat exchangers. As for the second system, it is mainly used during the autumn and spring, when the campus has little need for heating, or when the cold water loop is suspended.

The eco-energetic and innovative design, capable of reusing heat which would otherwise be wasted, allowed Colosse to win the InfoWorld Green 15 Award in 2010. Each year the InfoWorld Green 15 rewards 15 innovative and sustainable installations around the world, in the IT sector.

Technical Characteristics

Colosse's technical characteristics are available on the Calcul Québec website as well as on our page Tableau résumé des propriétés des serveurs de Calcul Québec.

Available Applications

The list of applications available on Colosse can be found on the page Modules sur Colosse.

Acceptable Use Policy for the Colosse Filesystem

You can find our acceptable use policy for the Colosse filesystem here.

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