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Google spanks memory, disk and networking vendors

Calls for proportional response

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Google has hit out at storage, memory and networking equipment makers with a grimace, a finger wag and a closing wallet.

Two of the ad broker's leading data center researchers have published a paper chastising all of the aforementioned groups of hardware makers for failing to cater to the real needs of customers. Unlike chip manufacturers, the other major infrastructure players have placed little emphasis on tuning their gear for energy efficient use in large data centers. As a result, customers are wasting millions of dollars on electricity, cooling and hardware.

In order to improve this situation, Google engineers Luiz André Barroso and Urs Hólzle have called for the development of "energy-proportional" gear that would cater better to the specific demands of those customers running hundreds and thousands of servers.

Barroso, whose paper appears in the Dec. issue of the IEEE's Computer magazine, has been taking Google's internal power, system usage and component failure research and turning it against the industry. In June, he whacked the reliability claims of disk manufacturers and revealed a couple of techniques Google has discovered for making platters spin longer. Now, he and Hólzle have gone at most of the major data center players, saying they need to step up their game to help out customers.

Many Greenies like to focus in on the processor as the real power problem child of data centers. The Google pair, however, think that it may make more sense now to examine the role that other components play in overall power consumption due to the unique nature of data center loads.

As most of you know, the recent multi-core designs from Intel and AMD have brought about a dramatic improvement in performance per watt metrics. In addition, both vendors and customers have started to pay more attention to power supplies, buying more efficient units for a bit extra cash. The upshot of both trends is that the "engine" part, if you'll forgive us, of the data center is showing power efficiency improvements.

For Barroso and Hólzle, these more fundamental technology shifts will have a greater impact on data center efficiency than some of the moves to apply mobile chip-style power tweaking to server processors. And this is - after more than 300 words and a head held in shame - is where we get to the real meat of the Googlers paper.

Unlike, say, notebooks, servers spend very little time in a truly idle state. Instead, servers usually run here - at between 10 per cent and 50 per cent utilization.

Throttling a chip down in these types of circumstances can prove more troublesome than helpful. For one, the latency penalties associated with waking up from a low power state often exceed the power saving benefits for a server customer. In addition, even servers with low usage are rarely idle. They're performing background jobs, helping present parts of a database or aiding with recovery tasks during failures.

But even with penalties for low power modes, chips tend to present some gains for servers customers in these states that are not offered with other server hardware.

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