Note to self: Memory counts, too

Summary:It’s pretty common knowledge that data center servers are among the biggest culprits in greedy power consumption. Most of the talk about addressing excess heat and energy use centers on new CPU approaches.

It’s pretty common knowledge that data center servers are among the biggest culprits in greedy power consumption. Most of the talk about addressing excess heat and energy use centers on new CPU approaches. But Micron Technology is focusing on the memory part of the equation.

The memory chip supplier currently is sampling its Aspen Memory line, which it estimates could cut memory power consumption by up to 60 percent in servers by reducing the chip count for memory components and reducing the voltage required to run.

Citing research by analyst firm Burton Group, Micron senior memory marketing manager Kevin Kilbuck estimates that server memory accounts for at least 15 percent of the power consumption in a data center server. (The CPU, by contrast, accounts for 35 percent, according to the Burton Group research.)

Kilbuck says the Boise, Idaho-based company is negotiating with major server vendors (all the usual suspects) about server designs using Aspen Memory. The line includes 1-Gbyte DDR reduced chip count modules and 1.5V DDR2 fully buffered DIMMS. “We’ve been talking to all of them about this,” Kilbuck says.

Aspen Memory-optimized designs could hit the market by next year, he projects.

The Aspen Memory line could be particularly applicable for servers intended for virtualization tasks, which tend to be configured with more memory. (Virtualization is a bit of a power Catch 22: data centers require fewer servers but those systems typically need more memory and, thus, consume more power.)

Micron has provided a nifty calculator application that’ll help you figure out how much your memory-related electricity costs are in a particular year and then how much you would save by replacing that memory with a 1.5V Aspen Memory module. It ran the calculations for its own data center (including 1,680 servers with 8 Gbytes of memory per server) and estimated it could save about $56,000 annually.

But Micron isn’t kidding itself: at least initially, there is a 10 percent to 20 percent price premium to be paid for this memory, and Kilbuck said the company doesn’t expect most businesses to invest in wholesale swap-outs. Still, over time, at least some of the major server vendors will offer Aspen-configured server options, he says. As this volume increases, the price gap will shrink. “We hope the premium will be short-lived,” he says.

An even lower voltage DDR3 offering is on the horizon that like will hit the market in the 2009 time frame.

Topics: Hardware, Data Centers, Servers

About

Heather Clancy is an award-winning business journalist specializing in transformative technology and innovation. Her articles have appeared in Entrepreneur, Fortune Small Business, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Times. In a past corporate life, Heather was editor of Computer Reseller News. She started her journalism lif... Full Bio

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