Greening the data center : The Atom-ic Age?


Today I’ve been reading about servers based on the low power Intel Atom CPU for the data center. I think it’s an idea being rendered obsolete by virtualization.

The Intel Atom CPs are pared down, modestly performing chips, optimized for power efficiency and found in such things as netbooks (mini laptops) and bottom end desktop PCs (anyone remember the AMD Geode?). The push right now is to build these into energy saving servers for green data center use. While I do agree that these servers could be a better replacement for really old equipment without energy saving features, the niche that they’re aiming for is rapidly disappearing.

The old scheme of using a single physical server to serve one lightly loaded function is dead. Consolidation of services has been the watchword for some time, no longer do we have separated machines for web, DNS, email, etc. Very few machines in the modern data center are dedicated to serving a single low traffic site and virtualization is only serving to accelerate the trend. The problem with Atom based machines is that they are overkill for running a low traffic dedicated site but underpowered to do an efficient job of running high utilization environments such as virtual servers.

It doesn’t matter how power saving the hardware is, what matters in efficiency is simply the amount of work accomplished for a given amount of power. Unfortunately, no collection of single servers operating at low levels of utilization, no matter how energy saving they are, are ever going to match a modern energy efficient server with high utilization.

The second issue is that the Atom server idea does little to reduce space and complexity issues in the data center. Would you rather have to deal with the cabling and airflow issues of an entire rack of underutilized servers or a single reasonably high powered server condensing and virtualizing? I know which one I’d prefer.

Relegate the Atom to applications where you MUST have a separate machine regardless of the utilization but don’t load up your data center with these turkeys.

Vern, SwiftWater Telecom

Virtual Private Servers and Workstations

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