Smart Phone Chips Calling for Data Centers

Monday, November 14, 2011

It's no secret that the demands placed on data centers are growing rapidly—all those 800 million Facebook profiles have to be stored somewhere. Not surprisingly, the companies that operate these vast warehouses are concerned about the costs of using all that energy. In September, Google said that its global operations continuously draw 260 million megawatts of power, roughly a quarter of the energy generated by a nuclear power plant.

Last week, Hewlett-Packard announced it would partner with a Texas-based processor startup, Calxeda, to use extremely low-power ARM chips in a new generation of data-center servers. These chips are similar to the ones found in iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices, and use significantly less energy than Intel's traditional server chips.

"Every watt that you use on a CPU, you spend one more watt to cool it down," says Sergis Mushell, an analyst with Gartner Research. "If you reduce the box's [energy demands] by one watt, you save yourself two watts of power."

Scale that up to the size of a company like Google or Facebook, and there's a huge incentive to bring down those energy requirements.

Calxeda is one of many companies that licenses low-power processor designs from U.K.-based ARM Holdings, a company that was spun out of academic research done in the U.K. in the early 1980s. Calxeda is the first company to put ARM-based processors into data-center servers.


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