By Dr. John Busch, president and co-founder of Schooner Information Technology
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, for every 100 units of energy piped into a typical data center, only three are used for useful computing. These inefficiencies are the result of very low (~10 percent) utilization of the data center’s computing servers which creates intolerable heat and energy issues as well as sprawling space requirements.
To make matters worse, experts predict the number of servers to double or even triple over the next few years as a result of booming demand for Internet capacity. Fortunately, the emergence of advanced component technologies, such as multi-core processors, low-latency interconnects, and flash memory, hold the promise to transform the data center through radical improvements in performance, scalability and power consumption.
The Potential and Pitfalls of Advanced Component Technologies
Advances in multi-core processors, low-latency interconnects and flash memory offer unparalleled efficiency at the component level, but integrating them to realize such benefits requires considerable ingenuity.
Multi-core processors enable high-performance computing by exploiting thread-level parallelism, but to fully realize these benefits, applications and operating environments need to have many parallel threads with fine grain concurrency control and very fast context switching,
Flash memory offers access times that are 100 times faster than those of hard disk drives (HDDs), and requires much less space and power. Flash memory also uses 100 times less power than random access memories (DRAM). The challenge lies in incorporating flash memory into system architectures to realize these benefits.
Low-latency interconnects continue to evolve, offering speed as fast as a single microsecond between servers. Workload data distributed across multiple servers can be rapidly replicated to multiple server nodes using these high performance interconnects to provide large improvements in service availability and data integrity, but forcing applications to explicitly control service availability adds significant complexity and loses much of the efficiency of the underlying technology.
Piecing Together the Puzzle: Higher Level Building Blocks
The next generation of component technology—multi-core processors, flash memory, and high-speed interconnects—offers the potential for extraordinary efficiency in the data center, but the truth is, because of the enormous amount of work to integrate them, the realized benefits are very limited. IT teams must develop highly parallel middleware applications, a high-performance operating environment, and optimize numerous, specialized configurations.
Adapting or inventing new deployment architectures to take advantage of the new technologies is a major undertaking with significant costs. Fortunately, higher-level tightly-integrated building blocks in the form of a new class of data access appliances are being introduced which address these challenges. And their real-world deployments are showing impressive benefits: Users are seeing eight times higher performance, 85 percent lower power consumption, and 60 percent lower cost of ownership. What’s more, these appliances are 100 percent compatible with existing applications and management tools, so no burdensome integration projects are required.
The evolution of next-generation data centers cannot happen soon enough—exploding demand for services from today’s Web and cloud computing data centers creates heating, power and space requirements that are not sustainable. However, companies that chose to evolve to the next-generation will experience unrivaled productivity and efficiency.
Dr. John Busch is CEO, president and co-founder of Schooner Information Technology, a provider of data access appliances for information-intensive Web 2.0 and cloud computing data centers. Dr. Busch has more than 25 years of industry experience as computer system research director at Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard, vice president of engineering and business partnerships at Diba (acquired by Sun), and co-founder/vice president of engineering of Clarity Software.