Innovations Help Beat the Heat

Opinion: As chip makers pack ever-more heat-generating circuits onto chip surfaces, IT pros must invest scarce IT budget dollars not only in powering them but in cooling them.

With energy prices climbing to unprecedented heights, power and thermal efficiency should be rising in parallel to the top of the IT management agenda.

Advances in semiconductor technology enable chip makers to pack ever-more heat-generating circuits onto chip surfaces. As these microprocessors find their way into new servers and storage systems, IT pros must invest scarce IT budget dollars not only in powering them but in cooling them.

/zimages/3/28571.gifIntel pledges to trade processors that flaunt outright speed for those that offer greater efficiency. Click here to read more.

However, some relief is in sight. Thanks to the emergence of multicore processors, server vendors will be able to pack more processing punch into each processor slot, without adding excessive heat or additional power.

But more is needed. Beyond this innovative change in architecture, server and processor vendors still need to improve power utilization and thermal performance in stressed data centers. Both AMD and Intel are promising all the right things, with plans to make server chips with the ability to sparingly sip electricity when idle and spring back into action when called upon.

Operating system and application vendors need to pitch in as well. Software developers must provide granular control of server resources for greater efficiency. This will allow IT managers to fully leverage the processing power they have already purchased and stave off unnecessary product acquisitions.

Suns Solaris 10, with its container functionality, has raised the standard for resource allocation management, and we urge other operating system vendors to add similar capabilities. Containers not only make application environments more secure, but they also allow IT managers to easily consolidate multiple applications onto a single machine, which can reduce server sprawl.

Help is also needed in the world of storage, where the recent influx of disk-based backup solutions has added to both the heat and power burdens of the data center.

Despite all the benefits of disk-based backup solutions, a wall of spinning disks will always create more heat and need more power than a room full of tapes sitting on shelves or in a tape silo. With SATA (Serial ATA) hard drives quickly becoming the media of choice for the storage of reference data and even for some archives, storage vendors need to make their offerings cooler and more efficient.

However, once again, some relief is in sight. One answer to this problem is MAID (Massive Array of Idle Disks)—storage devices with hard drives that stay in the inactive/nonspinning state when idle. MAID devices are being developed and shipped by a handful of small vendors, but we believe that more storage vendors should be working with this technology or finding other alternatives.

Innovations like these show that powerful and power-efficient need not be mutually exclusive attributes. Continued progress will enable IT managers to waste less money on power and cooling and to spend more on IT products and services that deliver strategic value.

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