Low Power Across the Enterprise Spectrum

Arthur Cole

By now, most enterprises have added low-power requirements to their hardware refresh cycles. Some plans may be more detailed than others, but the basic concept of doing more with less has taken firm hold of the budget process.

But even organizations without active power reduction strategies will benefit from the larger shift toward low-power computing, driven primarily by changes taking place in silicon. Whether the hardware shopping list is loaded with servers, storage, PCs or networking, it will be almost impossible to find the kind of power-hungry infrastructure that was the norm only a few years ago.

Part of this is a reaction to the ARM processor. Ever since England's ARM Holdings hinted that it would expand its low-power processor from the mobile market to traditional IT equipment like servers and PCs, the rest of the industry has been scrambling to head off the invasion. The threat is not insignificant. IDC predicts the company's share of the PC market could grow from zero today to 13 percent by 2015, propelled mainly by friendly talk from Microsoft that it will begin supporting ARM-based SoC's with the next version of Windows.

That certainly has caught the attention of Intel, which currently owns about 80 percent of the PC market. The company is close to releasing its Tri-Gate design on the 22 nm "Ivy Bridge" processors, which provide for a three-way gate mechanism on a three-dimensional structure. By providing a third avenue for electron manipulation, Intel says it gains a 37 percent performance boost while cutting in half the power consumption of the already parsimonious 32 nm chips.

Intel may have a fight on its hands with ARM over the PC market, but smaller firms could be facing a life-or-death situation. VIA Technologies, with only 0.2 percent of the worldwide semiconductor, is making its presence known with the new QuadCore processor that delivers 1.2 GHz at only 27.5 watts. Built on a 40 nm process, the two-die set provides 4 MB of L2 cache, a 1,333 MHz V4 bus and support for 64-bit operating environments. The company is targeting the device at high-definition multimedia and multithreaded applications.

On the network, we're seeing developments like Marvell's new Alaska X 10Gbase-T phys. The company has added support for 10 GbE connectivity over 100-meter copper links while keeping the power envelope below 2.5 W per port. And with the company's power management system in place, consumption can be cut to as low as 1.5 W per port. The devices are likely to show up in the Prestera-CX switch that supports up to 48 ports.

Clearly, low-power operation is coming your way in one form or another. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't have an active power strategy in place. Random pairings of uncoordinated technologies will likely produce marginal results on the bottom line, but the real savings will only come from a cohesive plan that has all enterprise components working in tandem.

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