Watts vs. market: the power of power

you don't beat your competitorsby becoming them

Last Friday I commented on the meaning of Power at the University of Buffalo's computing center. Today I want to follow up with a different pairing in the meaning of power.

Here are two extracts from an eweek interview with Andy Bechtolsheim, Sun's chief designer for x86:

Eweek: When Sun first announced the Opteron systems, and later with the purchase of your company, there was talk about some internal resistance to the investment in x86. Have you run into much resistance in your work in developing the Opteron systems?

Bechtolsheim: What really changed for Sun when I came back was that for the first time, there was a clear commitment to deliver and to engineer systems in this space. I think the previous philosophy was that you could pick up these kind of white boxes or gray boxes in Asia and just bring them to market. I think what the company very quickly realized was that you don't add any value doing that. To deliver value to the customer, you have to do something that's essentially better than you can buy on the street corner in Hong Kong.


Eweek: One of the mantras in the industry over the past year or so is bringing down the power consumption of the processors to enable enterprises to more easily deal with thermal issues. Yet you are bringing on systems with chips that consume more power.

Bechtolsheim: Opteron already is twice as power efficient as Intel's [chips], and you get more than twice the throughput for the same power consumption as Intel, so we're really ahead. And AMD is increasing the performance per power, so as far as we can tell here, yes, power is important, AMD has it now, Intel has it a year from now, so there's a major difference here. If customers are concerned about power, the only solution that makes sense is dual-core Opteron. It's twice the power-efficiency-per-throughput than anything from Intel.

My translation of the first part of this is pretty generic - and has a direct bearing on the Linux momentum debate that the talkback contributors have been digging into here all week. The lesson in what he says is simple: you don't beat your competitors by becoming them.

The second part is more subtle, and part of a longer term Sun initiative to sell higher performance per watt of input power. It's not yet clear what the actual power use or performance of these things is but sun claims that a four core, 550Watt, X4100 ($7,395 with Solaris, 4GB, 2 x 73GB disks) handily outperforms a four way, 1470W Dell PowerEdge 6850 ($16,033 for 4 x 3.66Ghz, 4GB, 2 x73Gb disk, Red Hat) Xeon.

If those cost, performance, and power use comparisons are reasonably accurate, and they probably are, then someone at the University of Buffalo should re-do Hamilton's cost and power calculations and ask those in power some very hard questions.