Power Consumption

February 15, 2007 at 8:51 am | Posted in Technical | Leave a comment

The Berkeley National Laboratory is scheduled to release a report today on the amount of electricity being guzzled by our nation’s servers. The report, according to Cnet, will say servers and their cooling gear in the U.S. consumed 45 million kwh’s of electricity in 2005.

To put that number into context with similarly large power drains, Mississippi and 19 other states consume less power than that. (Stephen Shankland, Cnet, Feb. 14, 2007.)

Researcher Jonathan Koomey, who is the author of the study, says most of this new power drain is guzzled by a large number of lower-end servers.

Obviously, for large enterprises, this power-sucking black hole in the server room must be making an impact on the bottom line. Beyond the costs, however, is the natural resources problem, since the DoE reports 86% of power consumed in the US is derived from petroleum, coal, and natural gas, none of which is a renewable resource.

The industry has started an energy star movement, but the government began to address the issue as recently as December, 2006, so it will be a while before the EPA is on board with those little “star” stickers we’ve all been sporting on our refrigerators for a decade.

In the meantime, many companies have spotted ways to decrease power consumption at the desktop level. Laptops use less juice than workstations, and mobile PCs use less than that. Ergo, mobile computing saves energy. Keeping documents electronically and not printing them also saves energy. Flash memory rather than spinning hard drives saves energy, too. These are no-brainers.

What can we do about our servers, though?

The only current answer I’ve been able to find that makes sense is virtualization. By using one processor to perform the work of many, virtualization reduces the number of ‘hot’ points in the server room, reducing the enterprise’s power consumption.

In the future, however, we may have more options. Rambus’s experimental Loki device can perform at 6.25 gigabits per second and pass information at 2.2 milliwatts per gigabit. Similar products on the market now can transfer more gigabits per second, but they operate at around 15 to 30 milliwatts per gigabit.  Perhaps Rambus is on to a new technology that will allow us to keep ramping up our processing speeds without installing private power plants in our company’s backyard. It seems, though, that a real-world implementation of the Loki technology is a long way off.

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