Get a Green Data Center Without Even Trying

Arthur Cole

A quick Web search shows that there is no shortage of information when looking for ways to reduce power requirements in the data center. Whether the goal is to reduce costs, cut carbon emissions, streamline hardware footprints or all of the above, there is a seemingly infinite number of concrete steps you can take toward a low-power enterprise. But it's also true that power reduction is going to come your way even if you do nothing-well, nothing outside the normal hardware refresh cycle.

A quick look at some of the enabling technologies and formats in development suggests that low-power operation is coming your way whether you want it or not. And since hardware requirements are dropping anyway due to virtualization and consolidation, overall hardware spending is still expected to be a fraction of what it once was.

Tech blogger Doug Mohney says the average data center could be completely transformed to low-power through an aggressive three-year refresh. His take is that this is just the right amount of time to avoid paying top dollar and lessen the potential risk of bugs and integration issues while still getting a cutting-edge infrastructure. It also provides the most balance between the cost of new hardware vs. the increasing cost of service on the old.

And within three years, we're going to see some pretty nifty stuff. Last fall, the IEEE ratified the Energy Efficient Ethernet standard that is expected to show up in a new generation of 10GBASE-T PHYs later this year. The standard takes advantage of the bursty nature of Ethernet traffic through a new low-power idle (LPI) technique that is said to cut consumption some 80 percent.

And it looks like power reduction will be possible even in higher throughput environments. National Semiconductor recently showed a 28 Gbps discrete quad-channel re-timer system that should help drive 100 and even 400 Gbps interface technology. Based on a silicon-germanium (SiGe) BiCMOS process, it also promises to improve signal integrity in chip-to-chip, chip-to-backplane and chip-to-optics interfaces. Look for it as part of the NSC's next generation of quad-, dual and bidirectional repeaters.

In the server as well, the transition to lower power is moving ahead on several fronts. ARM technology is poised to make significant inroads in the coming year, but there are some divergent opinions as to its suitability for high-data environments. Microsoft, which only recently had warmed up to ARM technology, has apparently had a change of heart and is now calling for ultra low-power 16-core x86 SoCs from Intel and AMD. Company veteran Dileep Bhandarkar says a 16-core device with an integrated memory control and I/O functionality has the highest potential to meet future data needs while still cutting power. It's likely that either Intel's Atom or AMD's Bobcat could fill the bill, but neither company has jumped yet.

With power concerns now taking a top place on the design boards of these and other enabling technologies, it's very likely that even data centers that haven't implemented extensive green strategies will start to see significantly lower energy bills in a few short years. And when coupled with any of the growing power and data management platforms hitting the channel, a highly efficient, streamlined environment shouldn't be out of reach at all.

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Feb 17, 2011 12:37 PM Dave Kelley Dave Kelley  says:

Keep in mind that whatever power reductions that you get in your IT equipment will translate directly into similar reductions in your cooling and power distribution operating requirements. See the following Energy Logic paper ( for a more detailed explanation. Also, the latest ASHRAE Datacom Series publication, 'Green Tips for Data Centers' (available from provides a number of energy saving opportunities along with the pros and cons of each.


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