IBM: 'Holistic' approach needed in power crisis

Address energy efficiencies in the data center with an ecosystem perspective, says IBM senior exec.

The chip by itself has little part to play in lowering the overall energy consumption in the data center, according to a senior executive at IBM, who notes that the problem should be addressed holistically.

Chipmakers are already addressing the issue of energy efficiency in data centers by reducing power consumption on the microprocessor, such as the use of 'high-k' material, but it looks to be a futile effort, IBM fellow Bernard Meyerson said in an interview.

"'High-k' makes a chip more efficient and it reduces the leakage of current through the chip by 10,000 [times]," said Meyerson, who is also the vice president of Strategic Alliances and CTO of systems and technology group at IBM.

However, it has negligible impact--approximately 0.3 percent--on the level of energy saved in a data center environment, he noted. "You can have the same effect by sending somebody with a warm body out of the room. That's not much of a win," he said.

Meyerson explained that the chip's energy consumption is only a tiny fraction of the total power equation. As such, the chip has an "almost meaningless" role in addressing the escalating power demands in data centers, he said.

"That's why chip companies themselves can't solve this; they can't even begin to address this," he said. "This is a holistic problem… A problem you've got to address, literally from the atoms and the molecules to the software."

Meyerson said: "It's an ecosystem issue. [It's] not an issue of chips, software or systems. It's [about] the whole thing."

In a bid to make IT infrastructures in data centers more energy efficient--and as such more environmentally friendly--Big Blue last week unveiled its roadmap to building "green" data centers. Dubbed Project Big Green, the initiative is expected to help the average 25,000-square-foot data center reduce its power consumption bills by 42 percent, and is part of the company's overall efforts--coined Big Green Innovations--to go green.

On Monday, IBM introduced its Power6 microprocessor that it said will run at double the processing speed of its predecessor Power5+, while consuming the same amount of energy to run and cool.

In April, Big Blue also unveiled a way to connect chips using a through-silicon vias (TSV), a technology that the company said will improve performance and reduce power usage. TSV allows far more data to be transferred per second, in a less energy-intensive manner.

Meanwhile, AMD's (Advanced Micro Devices) chips are also equipped with a power management capability. Dubbed AMD PowerNow, the technology lets its chips "manage power within the processor itself" and since 2003, has been enabled across the chipmaker's product family, including desktop, server and workstation, said Tan See Ghee, AMD's South Asia technology director.

The power management technology, which first debuted in AMD's K6-2+ and K6-III+ mobile processors in 2000, is a "combination of chip and software" that allows the chip to run in a "more power efficient manner", Tan said.