3 items to consider for your next energy efficient server

If your company needs new servers, this is a great time to be in the market.  Intel based Xeon® 5500 (Nehalem) servers that were introduced only a month ago have been arriving at customer sites all over the world and they provide some very compelling performance and energy efficiency benefits.  Here are 3 key items to consider before buying your next server.  The actual order of importance of these items may vary depending upon your business needs.

1.  Performance.  This is still a primary reason why new servers are purchased.  The best way to measure performance is to actually run your applications on the server you are considering.  If that is not possible or feasible, the next best choice is to compare server performance using a suite of benchmarks.  Some of the more common benchmarks that IT departments use to compare server performance are:

a.       Virtualization performance using Vmware VMmark: http://www.vmware.com/products/vmmark/results.html

b.      Energy efficiency using SPECpower_ssj2008: http://www.spec.org/power_ssj2008/

c.       Integer performance using SPECing_rate_base2006: http://www.spec.org/cpu2006/results/cpu2006.html#SPECint_rate

d.      Floating point performance using SPECfp_rate_base2006: http://www.spec.org/cpu2006/results/cpu2006.html#SPECfp_rate

e.       Web server performance using SPECweb2005: http://www.spec.org/web2005/results/

f.        Java performance using SPECjbb2005: http://www.spec.org/jbb2005/results/jbb2005.html

After looking these benchmark results, one thing you’ll notice is the Xeon® 5500 processors provide phenomenal performance…often up to 2x the previous generation!

2.   Server Hardware Choices 

a.       Processor.  The processor is one of the most important choices in the server.  Performance, features, power envelope and price all need to be considered.  From a power perspective, there are three power envelopes available for Xeon® 5500 server processors (95W, 80W and 60W).  In addition, there are 130W Xeon® 5500 processors, but these are primarily being used for workstations.  If you are in constrained power environment, it may be worthwhile to consider buying a lower power processor to reduce energy consumption.  Depending upon the processor SKU you are interested in, it is possible to get the exact same performance/frequency with a processor that just consumes less power.  (i.e. Xeon L5520 2.26GHz 60W instead of the Xeon E5520 2.26GHz 80W).  The L in front of the processor number refers to low voltage processors that consume less power.   

b.      Power supply.  Choosing a power supply with a high efficiency rating is one of the easiest choices you can make to reduce power consumption.  Choose a power supply that is at least 80%+ or higher efficiency.  Some of the newer power supplies are 90%+ or higher.  The higher the percentage, the better.

c.       Memory.  Every DIMM installed in the server consumes power.  In general, the fewer the DIMMs used, the less power that server will consume.  For a given memory capacity, such as 24GB, choose six 4GB DIMMs instead of twelve 2GB DIMMs.  The price of 2GB and 4GB DIMMs are almost at price per bit parity, but the power consumption of the memory will be much less with fewer DIMMs installed. 

d.      Add in boards.  Compare power consumption of add in boards such as 10GbE adapters, fibre channel adapters and other I/O cards.  Also, do you really need a fibre channel card these days.  FCOE (Fibre Channel over Ethernet) using a 10GbE adaptor is definitely a cost effective and power efficient way to get access to your storage array.

3.       To virtualize or not to virtualize?  Virtualization is no longer just a buzz word.  Virtualization is being used by many companies across multiple diverse industries today.  Fundamentally, it is an excellent way to consolidate many applications onto a single server, thereby increasing the utilization, value and energy efficiency of every server purchased.  Definetely a top item to consider.

What about your business?  What items do you consider before purchasing servers to maximize energy efficient performance?