Server farms, the Green Grid, and Instructions per Watt
Margery Conner - February 26, 2007
Maybe you saw today's article linking Coldwatt's new efficient and versatile digital power supply to the challenges facing the huge power-sucking server farms. Here's proof of how seriously IC and server manufacturers view the power crunch facing their industry: Virtually all of the significant players in the server space, from AMD and Intel at the chip end, followed by HP, Sun, and IBM at the server end, and now joined by Microsoft on the software side, are members of The Green Grid, an industry group formed to develop plans to rein in the increasing power consumption of server farms. The Wall Street Journal has a nice write up on Green Grid's new board and growing membership – sorry, the article is subscriber-only, but you can read the announcement yourself on The Green Grid site. Pay special attention to one of the white papers available for download, Green Grid Metrics: Describing Datacenter Power Efficiency, because it addresses what the group calls one of the roadblocks the industry must overcome in order to get a handle on server efficiency: No one can agree on how to measure efficiency.
Remember back in simpler times when the figure of merit for the latest and greatest microprocessor was quoted in MIPS, or millions of instructions per second? That parameter was too simple to describe and compare the capabilities of processor architecture, and so other benchmarks arose. However, there is no universal benchmark that allows designers to compare a processor's likely power consumption and Green Grid says that until such a measure exists, the industry won't be able to measure power and thus efficiency.
The WSJ article quotes Jonathan Koomey, staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and an author of an AMD-funded study on global energy consumption by servers: "It's the most absurd thing — Once people agree on a way to measure performance, things will change very quickly." So in addition to a probable flood of digital power supplies aimed at the server market, also expect the debate on just what constitutes their figure of merit to heat up before ultimately being boiled down to a suite of numbers that identify a server's Instructions per Watt.