AMD's Green Grid Project to Educate IT on Power Issues
Published: April 20, 2006
by Timothy Prickett Morgan
When you live with a Windows and Linux cluster, as I do, the last thing in the world you need is a lecture on heat, noise, and energy consumption in the data center. But, apparently, a lot of IT managers not only need to deal with the power and cooling issues of their IT infrastructure, they cannot find the information they need to help them cope when they do come to realize they have a problem.
This is why chip maker AMD has hooked up with Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Sun Microsystems to launch the Green Grid project.
Bruce Shaw, director of the worldwide commercial marketing for AMD is heading up the project, which seeks to enlist the sharing of information about power, cooling, and related energy issues between IT professionals, hardware and software makers, resellers, system integrators, IT and power industry analysts, government agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency, and organizations like the Alliance to Save Energy.
AMD chose the Server Blade Summit in Garden Grove, California, as the launching point for the initiative.
AMD has set up the Green Grid as an independent, non-profit association and will be soliciting funding from the founding members and putting together a charter within a few weeks. Right now, you can go to www.thegreengrid.org and sign up to be a founding member yourself. (After all I have written about power and cooling issues in the past couple of years, Shaw designated me as a founding member as well; I sure hope I don't have to pay as much as Sun, IBM, and HP to participate.)
Shaw says he has been working inside of AMD for the past nine months or so to get the Green Grid project going, and that this is about more than leveraging an issue to sell more thermal-efficient AMD processors.
Shaw says that in a recent survey of customers concerning power issues, AMD was able to get about 1,200 responses to the survey back, which is three to four times as many responses as typically come back. And 83 percent of those companies surveyed say that power is the number one issue in the data center today, and less than 30 percent of those companies who said it was important have a plan of action to tackle the issue.
AMD partner Sun Microsystems, which has some of the most energy efficient servers ever made on the market today, has been all over the power issue with its whole "eco-responsibility" mantra. The company even hosted a big event with the EPA and Lawrence Berkeley Labs (which knows a thing or two about consuming megawatts of power running computers) in January, where Sun proposed a new metric for measuring the efficiency of machines based on performance, floor area, and wattage consumed. Sun hosted another event at the end of March with the Department of Energy's EnergyStar program to come up with a more refined metric for rating servers, which is expected to be announced this summer.
Other vendors, not just the four founding members, are trying to sell energy-conscious products, such as servers based on the Opteron HE processors from AMD, which are low-voltage versions of the chips consume 55 watts instead of 95 watts; others are eager to sell machines based on the forthcoming Core server processors from Intel, which will be a lot more energy-efficient than current Xeons. The future dual-core "Woodcrest" chip due in the early third quarter from Intel burns about 80 watts, compared to anywhere from 110 to 130 watts for a big Xeon chip today.
But the Green Grid project is about more than just comparing watts and performance of server processors.
"All of the things that have been done to date on the power issue are fantastic, and we agree that the industry has to come up with some metrics," explains Shaw. "But just because you measure things doesn't mean you have solved a problem. Customers do not have access to best practices. And more importantly, we don't think the IT industry is hearing the voice of the customer on this important issue."
That is why Shaw is inviting everyone--including rival Intel--to join the Green Grid project. "If Intel wants to join, and talk about the initiatives and participate, then they are welcome to join," he says. Perhaps Intel will join in time to take part in the symposium that the Green Grid project hopes to get going later on this year.
Shaw also wants software makers to get in the game, particularly those that control operating systems, virtualization software, and middleware and applications. "There are a lot of ways for the software industry to step up, and they probably have the longest way to go compared to hardware vendors, power supply makers, and so on."
AMD's PowerNow and Intel's SpeedStep technologies are important innovations in that they allow portions of a processor to be geared down when not in use, which allows a chip to consume less electricity. But if software is written inefficiently--or without integrating itself with the PowerNow and SpeedStep technologies--then the applications that run on top of operating systems can crank the clock speeds right back up.
Virtualization software is particularly important to the power and cooling issue, since it allows companies to boost the efficiency of their server infrastructure by collapsing multiple physical servers into a single physical server with virtual machines running the formerly distinct operating system platforms.