Server Architecture and Standards

In my view, an element of Infrastructure Architecture (as a whole) is Server Architecture: the space that governs the strategy and roadmap of the computing infrastructure within a data center. Things such as standards come to mind when tasked with owning the server architecture for the infrastructure. There are many efficiencies to be gained by establishing a standard when it comes to servers. But what is interesting is the many dimensions of consideration that must go into establishing a standard in IT architecture - regardless of discipline. An example that is most pressing to me now as I work with enterprise customers is the power dimension. A simple question that can be asked when evaluating a server candidate is:

What is the performance per watt?

Intel and AMD have been focusing on this dimension for the last few years in their microprocessor architecture roadmap and the two companies differ widely. Of course, in a server there are many components that draw power but the processor by-and-large draws anywhere from 50-65% of the total power consumption of a server. Consider this, just by selecting Intel Xeon processors over AMD Opteron you are selecting a processor that consumes anywhere between 110 to 165 watts as opposed to the Opteron's maximum of 95 watts. How does that translate into cost? In terms of scale, it could very well be that the cost for powering the machines and keeping them running will exceed the cost of the machines themselves. It appears that efficiency in terms of energy doesn't just apply to vehicles.

Contextual factors that need to be considered when defining an appropriate server architecture for this dimension is the current and projected costs per kilowatt hour (which is currently around 9 cents and climbing). Chip multi-processing technologies such as multi-core and hyperthreading technologies seek to help but the consideration must be made to the vacuum of applications out there that can take advantage of them through parallelism and concurrency. Virtualization is also considered a trend to mitigate the power costs through consolidation.

The point of all of this was not to obsess about power and the need for energy efficient servers. In line with the theme of my blog and the thoughts I have regularly, there are many things to consider in architecture, it truly is a big - if not infinite - picture.