In the latest data centers that we have been involved in the design of, we have achieved designed PUEs of 1.04-1.09, which means that the electrical and cooling systems will use, on average over a year, 4-9% of the hardware loads (aka IT, servers, storage, network). This is a huge accomplishment and doesn’t come without a lot of experience, knowledge and constant effort to make those electrical and cooling systems ultra-efficient compared to average industry PUEs of over 2.0, meaning that cooling and electrical systems use more energy than the IT load. However, it also points out that these ultra-efficient data centers we are part of designing are now so efficient that we have to focus on the IT load to make a material affect on reducing energy use as there is very little more to save on the infrastructure side of the energy demand.
We work with clients to choose the most efficient servers and software solutions, but now is coming along an entirely game-changing technology, chips that use dramatically less power, about 1/20th, over existing technologies, and also more importantly, even much less energy in that they can turn off when not in use and immediately turn back on again when needed as processing demand increases again. In steps ARM-based processors for servers—the same technology used in our mobile devices today—that uses much less power and turns on and off much quicker than server processors of today.
Microsoft made a statement that they have been working with ARM based chips since 1997 and are now working with ARM in a new licensing agreement “to enhance our research and development activities for ARM-based products”. Quite a change from the strong partnership Microsft has had with x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices. Even Apple has made acquisitions of companies and hiring ARM chip engineers and ARM specialists, likely for use in their growing line of smaller devices—the iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc.
Startup SeaMicro unveiled a server running on Intel Atom chips with a fabric that puts CPUs to sleep, allow for a lower energy use rack. They claim they can have as many as 2,048 CPUs into a 40U rack and use 8 kWs of power. These calculations seem to be with half of the processors off per rack, a good improvement over standard racks, but can we do even better?
Enter Smooth-Stone with a even more advanced approach with ARM-based processors designed for servers. The company is working to build a rack with a similar number of processors, but with ARM based processors, they can shut off and back on again these processors in a much more rapid fashion. These processors should be able to withstand much higher temperatures, vibration and other tolerance—after all, they come from mobile applications where these are requirements unlike the soft-glove approach in most data centers. The advantages of Smooth-Stone’s ARM-based servers should provide a significantly greater amount of onboard memory, compute performance, network bandwidth, lower costs and many other advantages in a chip that only uses single digit Watts, providing a significant performance to Watt advantage. Plus being able to quickly turn on and off every processor in a rack except one running at 1/10 to 1/20th or even less than a traditional processor when the rack is unneeded, and bringing the rack’s processors back up individually within microseconds is a distinct advantage in energy savings, the largest operating expense and driver of capital expense in data centers.
With Smooth-Stone’s SoC and software and experienced team designing the lowest power consuming servers, this may likely be the game-changing technology in IT and data centers.