Server technology in the year 2021: Part 2

Servers get flashy, optical and green in the age of tera-architectures

See part Server technology in the year 2021: Part 1

Alternative Servers using low-power processors: In this day and age no technology assessment would be complete without looking at low energy servers in the data centre.

Low-energy servers are systems constructed around processor types that were originally designed for very low power environments, certainly not servers. A typical example is the Smartphone or an object that has a processor embedded inside.

The processor types used in this emerging category of low-energy servers currently include Intel's Atom and Tilera's TILE-Gx, but potentially many other architectures as well such as MIPS, SPARC, SuperH and 68k.

These processors are built system-on-chip (SoC) and run from about 5 watts per core at the high end down to fractions of a watt per core.

There has been speculation about this technology disrupting the market dominance of Intel and AMD. There have been questions around what will happen to x86 investments as a result of a new category of low energy server designs. Will organisations need to convert existing software to run on this new category of servers?

According to Gartner these lower-energy alternatives are only suitable for a specific and narrow set of cases that exist today. According to a report released last week and titled Hype Cycle for Server Technologies 2011 Gartner warns:

"They are suited to workloads that have light processor requirements in relation to their memory and input/output needs as well as those able to linearly scale in parallel across many more processors than those used running on traditional x86 servers. The market impact of these alternative servers will be slow to grow and quite modest for some time to come, limiting the impact on users of existing servers."

Claunch said organisations where the bulk of work running in their data centre requires light CPU requirements should look into this technology.

He said the technology is also compatible with an organisation that has a culture of leading edge IT projects. "These servers may provide substantial relief in energy costs and can support considerably more capacity in an existing data centre space," Claunch said.

Server digital power module management: This technology puts server power supplies (or many parts of the power distribution system) under microprocessor and, ultimately software monitoring and control.

It allows multiple power supply lines to be adjusted for maximum energy transfer efficiency and also enables two way communication between power sources. An example of this is power utilities and their customers. The biggest advantages of this technology is visibility into the power consumption of various server components and increased power efficiency. The downside, according to Gartner, is increased power management costs, reduced voltage regulation response time and only fractional improvements in overall regulator efficiency.

Despite this Gartner predicts digital power module management to grow in hardware platforms. While this technology is still in its infancy in terms of adoption, Gartner predicts interest to grow in line with rising power costs over the next five years.

Gartner advises users to consider this technology when software tools mature and when the cost of power justifies implementation. Smaller installations of servers are unlikely to benefit from this technology as implementation costs may exceed power savings. Larger data centres with significant amounts of equipment are more likely to benefit.

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