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Microservers for power savings

April 28, 2013 Leave a comment

Everything_looks_like_a_nailIf you have a hammer everything looks like a nail.  Conversely if all you have known are power hungry servers then you probably used them to address every workload.

Microservers came into the mainstream when cloud providers realized that they don’t need beefy power-hungry servers if they are not running heavy computing workloads.  If a provider  is to run less demanding compute jobs like serving contact information up to a user on your website, why deal with the floor tile space, power consumption, HVAC costs associated with high end servers?  Why not benefit from the power savings associated with Intel Atom or ARM based servers?

For instance, HP runs a portion of its www.hp.com website using its own microservers using the Intel “Centerton” Atom S1200 processers with appreciable power savings.  HP claims that microservers consume “89 per cent less energy and 60 per cent less space”.  This is assuming 1600 Moonshot Calxeda EnergyCore microservers (based on ARM based SoC) crammed in a ½ server rack to do the job typically done by 10 racks of 1U servers.

HP markets the microservers as suitable for hyperscale workloads.  A hyperscale workload is a lightweight workload that has to be done in large numbers so requires scaling from a few servers to several  thousand servers.   To appreciate the low power consumption of ARM based servers check out this article on “bicycle powered ARM servers”.

One concern that makes cloud providers hesitate to use ARM based microservers is whether legacy apps written for x86 based servers can be ported over to ARM based microservers.  To address this, a UK-based company called Ellexus sells a product called Breeze which makes it easy to migrate applications from x86 based servers to ARM based servers.  What if you are not sure that Breeze can do the job for you?  Ellexus partners with a cloud provider Boston who offer ARM-as-a-cloud service so you can actually try migrating your apps using Breeze without the intial CAPEX of buying ARM based microservers for your in-house datacenter.

Dell offers the Intel Xeon E3-based Dell PowerEdge C5220 microservers.  IBM is talking about Hadoop on the P5020.

To get further savings and cut out the 25% to 30% gross margins made by HP and Dell consider going directly to their Original Design Manufacturers (ODM)s like Quanta.  Taiwan based Quanta the server arm of $37bn Quanta Computer makes “white box” servers for big names like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Rackspace, Yahoo and Baidu.  The Quanta S910 series is an example of a microserver using Intel Xeon processors.  Quanta addresses the Facebook Open Compute Project which is of interest to cloud operators like Rackspace.  The Open Compute Project and specifically Facebook’s “Group Hug” motherboard spec aims to support different vendor CPUs on the same system.  This news will send shivers through the boardrooms of Intel and AMD but is good for you the consumer as you are not beholden to one CPU vendor.

At a time when major server vendors like IBM are trying to exit the x86 server business it may make sense to cut out the big name server vendors and deal directly with their suppliers if not for savings, at least to ensure a long term consistent roadmap with ever more computing capacity and lower power and space consumption.

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