If you are just trying to get your application live on the Internet, you might be under the impression that “green IT” and “Power Usage Efficiency” is something the infrastructure guys should worry about. As an hardware enthusiast working for an internet company, you probably worry a lot more about keeping everything “in the air” than the power budget of your servers. Still, it will have escaped no one’s attention that power is a big issue.


But instead of reiterating the clichés again, let us take a simple example. Let us say that you need a humble setup of 4 servers to run your services on the internet. Each server consuming 250W when running at a high load (CPU at 60% or so). If you are based in the US, that means that you need about 10-11 amps: 1000W  divided by 110V plus a safety margin. In Europe, you’ll need about 5 amps (Voltage = 230V). In Europe you’ll pay up to $100 per month per amp that you need. The US prices vary typically between $15 and $30 per amp per month. So depending on where you live, it is not uncommon to pay something like $300 to $500 per month just to feed electricity to your servers. In the worst case, you are paying up to $6000 per year ($100 x 5 x 12 months) to keep a very basic setup up and running. That is $24000 in four years. If you buy new servers every 4 years, you probably end up spending more on power than on the hardware!

Keeping an eye on power when choosing the hardware and software components is thus much more than naively following the hype of “green IT”. It is simply the smart thing to do. We take another shot at understanding how choosing your server components wisely can give you a cost advantage. In this article, we focus on low power Xeons in a consolidated Hyper-V/Windows 2008 virtualization scenario. Do Low Power Xeons save energy and costs? We designed a new and improved methodology to find out.

The new methodology
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  • WillR - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    10p per kWh may be low in the UK but it's not for residential in the US. $.12/kWh is average. Just pulled out a bill from earlier this year and we paid 7.3 cents per kWh at my house. What it comes down to is the data center potentially overcharges people in the, using your numbers, 19 to 38 cents per kWh range, but rates can be higher than $.20/kWh in high density areas like NYC or SF. The extra costs should go to paying for upgrades and expansion of their infrastructure so it's not unreasonable.

    Worth mentioning to put in perspective is 4 250 watt servers uses 720kWh/month and the average house in the US uses 920kWh/month, so it's not really as simple a setup as one might initially think.

    http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/esr/table... provides a nice table of average rates and usages.
  • knedle - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    I'm not sure if you're aware, but in most countries residential has much (at least twice) lower price per 1kWh, than commercial. Also commercial pays extra for using electricity during the day, and gets electricity cheaper during night.
    This is why there are some factories in Europe that work only during night.
  • WillR - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    That is not the case in the US. Residential pays higher rates than either Commercial or Industrial users.


    Average Retail Price (Cents/kWh)
    Items Mar-10 Mar-09
    Residential 11.2 11.33
    Commercial 10.03 10.07
    Industrial 6.5 6.79

    Industrial settings tend to use very large amounts of energy in a very small area or number of clients so they get cheaper bulk rates for purchasing a lot with little administrative overhead. It's also often the case they can get a high voltage line installed directly to the plant which is expensive to install but increases efficiency dramatically.

    These averages may reflect heavy use of off-peak consumption, but most plants I've experienced operate 24/7. Much of it is politics and bargaining for a better rate on the contract.
  • DaveSylvia - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    Hey Johan, great article as usual! Always enjoyed and appreciated your articles including those from back in the day at Ace's Hardware!
  • JohanAnandtech - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    Good memory :-). I have been part of Anand's team for 6 years now, that is the same amount of time that I spend at Ace's.
  • DaveSylvia - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    Yeah! One of the first tech articles I recall reading was back in 1999. It was about how pipeline length influenced CPU clock speeds. You used Pentium II, K6, DEC Alpha's as examples :). All good stuff!
  • MrSpadge - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    Or you could say that disabling turboboost (by using the power plan “balanced”) results in an 10% throughput disadvantage.

    Isn't there a power plan which lets the CPUs turbo up (as max performance does) and also lets them clock down if not needed (as balanced does)? It seems outright stupid to take turbo away from a Nehalem-like chip.

  • has407 - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    No reason you shouldn't be able to specify a power plan that does both, but for whatever reason it isn't provided out-of-the-box.

    I'd guess that given the relatively small difference in idle power between "performance" and "balanced" (which seems to be more of "power capped" plan), maybe they (presumably the OEM?) decided it wasn't worth it.

    There may also be stability issues with some system configurations or support concerns, as there's yet another set of variables to deal with.
  • has407 - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    Johan -- That brings up an interesting question: How much of the underlying CPU's power management are you testing vs. a particular vendor or OS configuration? I'd expect them to closely reflect each other assuming everyone has their job.

    As you're using Win 2008, it would be interesting to see what powercfg.exe shows for the various parameters for different modes and systems; e.g., "Busy Adjust Threshold", "Increase Policy", "Time Check", "Increase Percent", "Domain Accounting Policy" etc. Are there significant differences across systems/CPUs for the same profile?
  • Whizzard9992 - Thursday, July 15, 2010 - link

    Heat dissipation is also a concern, no? It's expensive to cool a datacenter. Low power should bring cooling costs down.

    There's also a question of density. You can fit more low-power cores into 1U of space because of the heat dissipation. Multi-node blades are cheaper than 2U workhorses. Rack space is expensive for a lot of reasons. Just look at the Atom HPC servers: I bet the Atom would score pretty low in performance-per-watt versus even the LP XEON, but its sheer size and thermal envelope fit it in places the XEON can't.

    Frankly, I'd be surprised if the low-power XEON saved "energy" at the same workloads versus full-power, given that both are on the same architecture. LP XEONs are really an architecture choice, and greasing the transition to many-cores via horizontal scaling. A good desktop analogy would be, "Is one super-fast core better than a slower multi-core?" Fortunately for the datacenter most servers only need one or the other.

    Also, with physical nodes scaling out horizontally, entire nodes can be powered down during down times, with significant power savings. This is software-bound, and I haven't seen this in action yet, but it's a direction nonetheless.

    Without getting into all of the details, I think a proper TCO analysis is in order. This article seems to really only touch on the actual power-consumption, where there are really no surprises. The full-power peaks performance a little better, and the LP stays within a tighter thermal-envelope.

    The value of low-power is really low-heat in the datacenter. I'd like to see something that covers node density and cooling costs as well. A datacenter with all LP-servers is unrealistic, seeing as how some applications that scale vertically will dictate higher-performing processors. It would be nice to see what the total cost would be for, say a 2,000 node data center with 80% LP population versus 20% LP population. The TDP suggests a 1/3 drop in cooling costs and 1/3 better density.

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