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What Can Be Done about Energy-Hungry Apps in the Data Center?

by on August 16, 2010

If anything emerged from the Uptime Symposium last May in New York, it’s that organizations appear to be losing their fight to control their energy consumption. “There is a freight train coming that most people do not see, and it is that you are going to run out of power and you will not be able to keep your data center cool enough,” Rob Bernard, the chief environmental strategist for Microsoft, reportedly told attendees at the conference.

Energy_hog An interesting aspect of Bernard’s talk at the confab was how he fingered enterprise applications as a major contributor to the data center’s untrammeled appetite for power. For anyone who has used Microsoft applications, Bernard’s remarks seem like a thinly veiled mea culpa. The old way of building applications needs to be deserted, he asserted. Those apps consume too much memory and hold on to a processor too long. A single program that doesn’t go to sleep when it’s not being used can drive up the power consumption for an entire server because the server won’t be able to take a nap while that app is awake.

Oddly enough, Bernard noted that faster, more energy efficient processors can actually contribute to the problem. Applications may run faster with a new processor, but in doing so it will tax the processor less and leave its unused cores idle but still consuming power. “As soon as you replace your hardware with something more efficient, your CPU usage, by definition, will go down,” Bernard said.

Data centers need to scale the power they use dynamically. That means the workloads placed on all the components consuming power–servers, fans, memory, disk drives and such–must scale with the applications running on the system.

“The idea is to not think about more transactions per watt, but to think about fewer watts per transaction,” Bernard advised.

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