Your Smartphone is changing the way web servers get built

May 11th, 2011 by


Every now and then a David comes along and slays a Goliath in the IT industry. In this case the Goliath refers to web server space and power consumption while the David is a small server builder called SeaMicro, which is reaching new heights with Intel’s Atom microprocessor originally intended for use in Netbooks and Smartphones.

“There are two parts to energy consumption on a server with about 1/3 of the power generally consumed by the CPU; 2/3 of the power is taken up by everything else. We attacked both these sources when developing our product, ” said CEO and co-founder, Andrew Feldman.

The Atom microprocessor was selected to tackle the CPU energy consumption. According to Feldman the Atom chip is three-and-half-times more efficient than any server part on the market today for Internet-styled workloads.

To handle “everything else” the SeaMicro team had to systematically invent new technology to rid the system of components. They did this by borrowing technology used in cloud computing: Virtualization.

The same way that cloud computing allows web hosting customers the ability to consolidate several servers into one using either private or public clouds, the SeaMicro team came up with something called CPU I/O virtualization.

The result: SeaMicro was able to remove 90% of the components that appear on a Server board.  This massive shrinkage translates into lower energy consumption, which effectively makes it a ‘green technology’.

This is one reason why it made a recent appearance at #7 on The Wall Street Journal’s top 10 list of clean-tech companies.

In February 2011, SeaMicro released the 64-bit x86 server, The SM10000-64, which featured 256 of the latest 64-bit Intel Atom n570 dual-core processors. The 10-rack unit measures about 17.5 inches in height reducing power and space by more than 75%.

The use of Atom microprocessors shrinks a system board from the size of a chessboard to that of a business card.

The implications are far-reaching since the tiny servers draw ¼ the power and take ¼ the space of traditional servers, most of which usually consume Xeon processors from Intel. (See previous blog post on Intel servers and the Xeon range).

“For companies in the data center, power consumption is the largest Operating Expense for often accounting for more than 30% of Op EX.  In fact, research has shown that over a volume server’s lifetime the cost of power exceeds its purchase price,” said SeaMicro.

In one case study, Mozilla, developers of Firefox web browser, compared performance on the SeaMicro SM10000 with their incumbent system – an HP C7000 Dual Socket Quad Core L5530 Xeon Blade and found SeaMicro to be dramatically superior on all of the competitive dimensions: Capital expense per unit compute.

Mozilla said that while handling HTTP requests, each Atom server in the SeaMicro SM10000 provided dramatically more consistent response time to user requests than the Quad Core Xeon processors in the HP C7000, ensuring a uniform and positive customer experience.

“Our investment in SeaMicro has already paid tremendous dividends. We are drawing on the order of 1/5 the power per HTTP request, and using less than 1/4 the space,” said Mozilla.

“This has freed room in our power envelope, and space in our cages to increase the compute footprint, providing additional CPU cycles for our different users, while dramatically reducing our operating expenses.”

What is so interesting about the SeaMicro success is how the revolution in Smartphones and cloud computing is helping drive server innovation.  As more and more people access the Internet over their Smartphone (and consequently cloud services such as Google Docs or Amazon’s storage platform), the need for more powerful microprocessors becomes a priority.

This led to the development Intel’s Atom chip. But, SeaMicro was one of the very few companies to see how this might be repurposed back towards lower energy consumption in servers housed at massive web hosting data centers.

The result is a new wave of innovation sweeping the land of web servers as the world of technology continues its march towards smaller devices and lower energy footprints.

In the end this may translate into lower costs for you, the consumer. Who can argue with that!

Guest Blogger: Jason Stevens from / Freelance web developer, tech writer and follower of cloud computing trends. Follow him on Twitter @_jason_stevens_

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