The Chipmakers' Power Obsession

Not since blackouts rolled across California before Enron's collapse has the IT industry been so obsessed with power use in the data center. In recent conferences, a month apart, the industry's biggest chipmakers held up power management as a major concern of IT, and a central feature of their roadmaps.

"With the rising costs of oil, the issue of energy efficiency has never been more important," Marty Seyer, senior vice president and general manager for Commercial and Performance Computing at AMD, said during the recent AMD in the Enterprise event.

"This is why AMD is driving global awareness initiatives to bring greater accountability to data center power consumption," Seyer said.

AMD, which worked so diligently to steer the industry away from Megahertz as the single measure of chip performance, is now driving hard to create a single power metric to demonstrate efficiency and performance in the data center. The company is working with other data-center vendors and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the metric.

AMD claims to be riding a wave of interest in energy efficiency among its customers. The company recently co-sponsored a survey of 1,100 IT decision makers. According to the survey, 70 percent of organizations track power consumption and cooling issues closely, and 44 percent have had to continually increase the amount of power supplied to the data center.

A month earlier, processor efficiency played a starring role at the Intel Developer Forum. While the company emphasized many things -- multi-core processors, baked-in virtualization capabilities -- one clear focus was energy use.

According to a chip roadmap laid out by Intel senior vice president and general manager of the Digital Enterprise Group, Pat Gelsinger, Intel has a number of processors and server platforms coming out through 2006 that will lower power use in the data center.

First came Sossaman, an ultra-low-power processor for server blades, storage devices and telecommunications equipment. That processor shipped shortly after the IDF.

Next is Dempsey, the first processor under the Intel Xeon platform code-named Bensley. Intel says the majority of Bensley-based processor volume will run below 100 watts.

Coming in the third quarter of 2006 is a processor update for the Bensley platform code-named Woodcrest. Intel claims Woodcrest will reduce power consumption by 35 percent while improving computing performance.

"Today, the IT manager is under pressure from many, many different fronts," Gelsinger said during his keynote. "He has the challenges of budget where almost 80 percent of the IT budget is spent just on running the services that they have in place today -- with the cost of electricity being the second highest consumer of that budget and labor costs being the first."

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.

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