AMD, Others Look to Address Server Power Consumption

Industry players are starting to look at creating a universal measurement for server power consumption, a sort of server miles per gallon, chip maker AMD says.

SAN FRANCISCO—Advanced Micro Devices says it wants to help create a better measurement for server power consumption.

Executives at the chip maker, who are in town to tell its story this week while rival Intel holds its bi-annual developer forum, said that AMD is working with others in the industry to better understand the various elements a server power test would require. At the moment, there are no universally-accepted tests, analogous to an automobile fuel mileage rating, that allow a company to compare power consumption of different machines.

Server power consumption, expected to be a major theme at Intels Developer Forum, which starts March 7, is becoming a major concern to businesses, as a confluence of events, including rising electric rates, increases in server rollouts and power-hungry processors have begun leading to higher electric bills and strains on data-center electrical and cooling systems. Thus, the need for a finer measurement—one that would offer the ability to project how much electricity a given machine will use and compare that to another machine—is growing.

"It seems like every IT guy Im talking to is concerned about power," said Brent Kerby, a product marketing manager for servers in AMDs Microprocessor Solutions Sector, in Sunnyvale, Calif.

The advent of multicore processors with built-in virtualization technology, which are working their way into servers now, has helped manage power by adding more computing capabilities to each server, thus theoretically allowing a single server to do the work of one or more older machines. As they contain two separate processors, switching to dual-core doubles the number of processors inside a given server. But the move generally does not increase chips prices or power consumption. Virtualization helps to better utilize each server by allowing it to run multiple different operating systems and application sets.

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However, adding up maximum power ratings for processors, memory and other hardware bits has its downfalls. Maximum chip power, for one, doesnt reflect on how much energy a server will use at various loads or at idle. Thus, there isnt a reliable way to predict how much energy a given machine will consume over a given period of time and benchmark it against others.

The best way to do so would be to measure power draw at the wall, or electrical outlet. Still, arriving at such a mark would require the agreement of numerous computer industry players and a coalition of interested parties to develop tests, several computer executives have said.

Intel, for one, would support such a measurement, provided it was created by third parties, said Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intels Server Group, in Hillsboro, Ore., in a recent interview with eWEEK.

Kerby said the industry got a start last month. Executives from such companies as AMD, Intel and Sun Microsystems, as well as officials from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, met in February to discuss computer power consumption. While the meeting didnt result in a clear-cut answer, "everyone was thinking about critical elements—how do we measure these—and trying to understand workload thats all-encompassing," Kerby said.

"Everyone wants to come together," he said. "Were trying to get together with a bunch of different industry folks and understand whats important to them."

Among the more critical elements include coming up with a way to measure power consumption under an application load and how to determine that load.

"Once we define what this metric is… its going to be a very foolproof metric that cant be tweaked in a non-performance-per-watt way," Kerby said.

AMD feels it has a leadership role in putting together the effort, he said.

Meanwhile, the chip maker says its continuing its efforts to offer higher-performing, yet energy-efficient chips. On Monday, AMD launched its Opteron 185, Opteron 285 and Opteron 885 models. The chips, for single-, dual- and multi-processor servers, respectively, offer a bump in performance via a clock speed increase from 2.4GHz to 2.6GHz.

The chip maker also now says it intends to deliver a new line of dual-core Opteron chips in the third quarter, updating its official guidance on the timing of the release of its so-called Rev F Opterons. Those new chips will offer greater performance but fit within the same 95-watt power envelope as AMDs current chips, AMD officials say.

AMD has been demonstrating a four-processor machine running the Rev F chips in a downtown San Francisco hotel suite this week.

The Rev F chips buff up AMDs server platform by offering features such as built-in virtualization and an on-board memory controller that addresses DDR2 (double-data-rate 2) memory. Access to DDR2 memory modules will afford servers incremental performance gains if companies choose the fastest DDR2 800 modules, AMD officials have said.

AMD will also roll out a new line of desktop processors based around its new AM2 socket in the second quarter, updating its guidance on the release of the new chips for desktops and workstations. A chip socket provides a method for attaching chips to computers main circuit boards. The new chips will share the same basic features of AMDs new Opterons, due in the third quarter.

In 2007, AMD will release a quad-core chip that will also fit within the 95-watt envelope. That chip will be able to work with hardware designed around AMDs Rev F chips, fitting into the same sockets.

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For its part, Intel will detail new server chip platforms and details of a more power-efficient processor architecture, dubbed NGMA, or next-generation micro architecture, which will be used to deliver new processors later this year.

It will demonstrate, for example, its "Bensley" chip platform for dual-processor servers.

The two, which will merge in chips such as its forthcoming dual-core "Woodcrest" server processor, underscore Intels efforts to offer a better balance between performance and power consumption in its chips, company officials say.

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