From nothing more than an outlandish speculation, the prospects for a new entrant into the volume Linux and Windows server space have suddenly become much more concrete, culminating in an immense buzz at CES as numerous players, including NVIDIA and Microsoft, stoked the fires with innuendo, announcements, and demos.
Consumers of x86 servers are always on the lookout for faster, cheaper, and more power-efficient servers. In the event that they can’t get all three, the combination of cheaper and more energy-efficient seems to be attractive to a large enough chunk of the market to have motivated Intel, AMD, and all their system partners to develop low-power chips and servers designed for high density compute and web/cloud environments. Up until now the debate was Intel versus AMD, and low power meant a CPU with four cores and a power dissipation of 35 – 65 Watts.
The Promised Land
The performance trajectory of processors that were formerly purely mobile device processors, notably the ARM Cortex, has suddenly introduced a new potential option into the collective industry mindset. But is this even a reasonable proposition, and if so, what does it take for it to become a reality?
Our first item of business is to figure out whether or not it even makes sense to think about these CPUs as server processors. My quick take is yes, with some caveats. The latest ARM offering is the Cortex A9, with vendors offering dual core products at up to 1.2 GHz currently (the architecture claims scalability to four cores and 2 GHz). It draws approximately 2W, much less than any single core x86 CPU, and a multi-core version should be able to execute any reasonable web workload. Coupled with the promise of embedded GPUs, the notion of a server that consumes much less power than even the lowest power x86 begins to look attractive. But…
My analyst duties took me to a number of industry and tech-vendor events this fall; in fact, looking back at my calendar, I have been out of my home area in Boston for nine of the last 12 weeks. The upside of all that time in airplane seats is that I get to meet and interact with leaders across the technology industry, including supplier companies, large and small, and their customers and partners.
In the first 10 days of December I spent time with five important technology suppliers, each of which has very different views on the opportunity in the broad arena of IT-for-sustainability (i.e., how information technology products and services help corporations achieve their sustainability goals).
My work at Forrester is focused on helping strategists at IT suppliers (vendors) align their development, positioning, and messaging with the big trends and disruptions in the industry. Mobility, cloud computing, globalization … trends at that high altitude. Over the last 3 years or so, that has included sustainability as it has appeared on and risen higher on the strategy agenda of companies around the world.
When I meet with strategists at tech suppliers large and small, we talk sustainability both in terms of how the companies are cleaning up their own practices and processes, and what they are doing to help their customers do the same. SAP’s “exemplar and enabler” language captures these parallel efforts nicely. But it’s still a limited perspective, one that I characterize as the IT industry playing defense. “We are improving our energy efficiency!” says the collective industry voice, as if trying to deflect public criticism of energy-hog data centers, or mountains of e-waste, or PCs left running 7 x 24. And yes, absolutely, the IT industry and its customers have more work to do to make IT infrastructure and processes less wasteful and more responsible.
Despite its networking roots, today’s Interop events have evolved to address an expansive range of IT roles, responsibilities and topics. While networking managers will still feel at home in the networking track, Interop addresses a variety of themes very relevant to the broader interests of IT Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) professionals, like cloud computing, virtualization, storage, wireless and mobility, and IT management.
IT professionals responsible for the “I” (or Infrastructure) in I&O will find the event particularly relevant. So much so that Forrester has partnered with Interop to develop track agendas, identify speakers, moderate panels, and even present. For the last two years, I have chaired the Data Center and Green IT tracks at Interop’s Las Vegas and New York events. And I am doing the same this year at Interop New York 2010 from October 18th to 22nd.
Yesterday, I participated in one of the regular content planning sessions for us analysts on Forrester’s IT Infrastructure & Operation’s Research team. Similar to investment managers and their portfolio of stocks or bonds, we spent time making buy/hold/sell decisions on what we will research more, continue to research, or stop researching. Among the many criteria we use to make these decisions, like client readership, inquiries, or consulting, the strategic relevancy to IT is an important factor to consider. And there was some heated debate around research themes we may phase out down the road…
Enter the discussion on IT asset disposition – or the process of reselling, donating, or recycling end-of-life IT equipment. While every organization eventually has to dispose of its end-of-life IT equipment, it’s long been an afterthought. And the data backs this up. Forrester finds that 80% of organizations globally use their OEM, third parties or a combination of the two for IT asset disposition. But when asked how important IT asset disposition is relative to other IT asset management processes, it’s far and away the least important. As an indicator of this, I recently surveyed over 300 European IT professionals where 77% of respondents ranked IT asset disposition “less important” or “least important.”
This begs the question, is disposing of end-of-life IT equipment really strategic?
In a recent discussion with a group of infrastructure architects, power architecture, especially UPS engineering, was on the table as a topic. There was general agreement that UPS systems are a necessary evil, cumbersome and expensive beasts to put into a DC, and a lot of speculation on alternatives. There was general consensus that the goal was to develop a solution that would be more granular install and deploy and thus allow easier and ad-hoc decisions about which resources to protect, and agreement that battery technologies and current UPS architectures were not optimal for this kind of solution.
So what if someone were to suddenly expand battery technology R&D investment by a factor of maybe 100x of R&D and into battery technology, expand high-capacity battery production by a giant factor, and drive prices down precipitously? That’s a tall order for today’s UPS industry, but it’s happening now courtesy of the auto industry and the anticipated wave of plug-in hybrid cars. While batteries for cars and batteries for computers certainly have their differences in terms of depth and frequency of charge/discharge cycles, packaging, lifespan, etc, there is little doubt that investments in dense and powerful automotive batteries and power management technology will bleed through into the data center. Throw in recent developments in high-charge capacitors (referred to in the media as “super capacitors”), which add the impedance match between the requirements for spike demands and a chemical battery’s dislike of sudden state changes, and you have all the foundational ingredients for major transformation in the way we think about supplying backup power to our data center components.
I recently recorded a podcast with GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the global pharmaceutical company, and their success story of implementing a PC power management initiative that is expected to cut energy costs by ~$1 million per year. While these savings alone should impress any IT executive – especially IT infrastructure and operations professionals who manage PCs – what I found so unique about their story came through my conversation with Matt Bartow, business analyst in GSK’s research and development IT organization, who led this initiative. In particular, GSK is a great example of how “empowering” staff to innovate can industrialize IT operations leading to significant cost savings andgreen IT benefits.
GSK’s success with PC power management is an outcome of the inspired management style advocated in Forrester’s upcoming book, Empowered. By proactively calling on their employees to spur innovation, GSK tapped into one of their greatest inventive resources – staff, like Matt Bartow, who Forrester would consider a highly empowered and resourceful operative (HERO). But as Empowered explains, HEROes can’t succeed without support from management. By initiating the innovation challenge, GSK’s IT leadership not only identified HEROes in their organization but sourced innovative ideas at the same time. From there, the use of social media technology – in this case, using a wiki-type website with voting capabilities – made it simple for GSK staff to participate while giving them a “say” in the selection process.
So how exactly did PC power management become an IT priority at GSK?
As green IT plans persist through 2010, I'm starting to receive questions from IT infrastructure and operations professionals — particularly data center managers — about the use of cleaner energy sources (e.g. wind, solar, fuel cells, hydro) to power their data center facilities. So when Google recently announced its purchase of 114 megawatts of wind power capacity for the next 20 years from a wind farm in Iowa, I got excited, hopeful of a credible example I could refer to.
But as it turns out, Google will not be using this wind energy to power its data centers. . . yet. Despite Google stating that the wind capacity is enough to power several data centers, their Senior Vice President of Operations, Urs Hoelzle, explains that, "We cannot use this energy directly, so we're reselling it back to the grid in the regional spot market." I confirmed this in electronic conversations with two other industry insiders, Martin LaMonica (CNET News) and Lora Kolodny (GreenTech), who also covered the announcement.
And it's unfortunate since Google's $600 million data center in Council Bluffs, Iowa could likely benefit from the greener, and possibly cheaper, wind energy. But Iowa is a large state and it's likely that distribution of the wind energy is an issue since the Council Bluffs data center appears to be well over a 100 miles away from their wind farms several counties away.
Watching the World Cup over the past few weeks gave me a new appreciation for soccer/football/futbol. Imagine passing, catching, shooting a ball with NO HANDS.
The goal that Ghana scored in overtime (sorry, "extra" time) to knock out the USA was, sadly, prettier than anything that Tom Brady or Jerry Rice could do with an American football.
So my national pride took a hit as the US was eliminated — fortunately it got a boost in an unexpected way on a trip to a client's event later that week. I spent the day at Panduit Corp.'s new company headquarters outside of Chicago, speaking to their executives and customers on my favorite topic: the role that IT leaders and IT organizations can play as enablers and catalysts of corporate sustainability initiatives.
In the course of Panduit's headquarters-opening event, I got a chance to visit with three companies with a lot in common: privately-held, headquartered a long way from Silicon Valley or Route 128, and family- or founder-led. Not the usual characteristics of innovative, high-tech firms. And yet all three are at the front edge of technologies being used to make buildings and data centers more efficient and less environmentally impactful:
• Lutron of Coopersburg, Pa., founded in 1961 by the inventor of the rotary dimmer switch. A supplier of leading-edge lighting systems for green buildings. The lighting in the building's conference rooms and public areas was calm, cool, and extremely energy-efficient.
So why is PC power management important to IBM customers?
While IBM already offers its customers energy-efficient servers and their “Tivoli Monitoring for Energy Management” software for the data center, bigger opportunities for savings exist across distributed IT assets, like PCs, monitors, phones, and printers. In fact, Forrester finds that distributed IT assets consume 55% of IT’s total energy footprint versus only 45% in the data center. And the extent of these savings can add up. For example, BigFix cites a large US public school district with 80,000 PCs saving $2.1 million in annual energy costs (or $26 per PC per year) using BigFix’s Power Management software.