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Jonathan Erickson

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Data Center Power Consumption Can Be a FAWNy Business

May 15, 2009

I'm a sucker for a good pun. (Of course, some would say that there's no such thing as a "good" pun.) So when I came across a paper entitled FAWNdamentally Power-efficient Clusters, I had to read it. And you know what? Not only did I enjoy reading the paper, I actually learned a thing or two about a very important topic.As a power-efficient alternative for data-intensive computing, the authors -- Vijay Vasudevan, Jason Franklin, David Andersen, Amar Phanishayee, Lawrence Tan, Michael Kaminsky, and Iulian Moraru -- propose a cluster architecture called a FAWN, short for "Fast Array of Wimpy Nodes." A FAWN consists of a large number of slower but efficient nodes that each draw only a few watts of power, coupled with low-power storage. Prototype FAWN nodes are built from 500-MHz embedded devices with CompactFlash storage that are typically used as wireless routers, Internet gateways, or thin clients. According to the authors, their preliminary evaluation results demonstrate that a FAWN can be up to six times more efficient than traditional systems with Flash storage in terms of queries per joule for seek-bound applications and between two to eight times more efficient for I/O throughput-bound applications.

Why is this important? Because, the authors point out, power is becoming an increasingly large financial and scaling burden for computing and society. The costs of running large data centers are becoming dominated by power and cooling to the degree that companies such as Microsoft and Google have built new data centers close to large and cost-efficient hydroelectric power sources. Studies have projected that by 2012, three-year data center energy costs will be double that of server equipment expenditures

They go on to say that power consumption and related cooling costs have become a primary design constraint at all levels, limiting the achievable density of data centers and large systems, and pushing processor manufacturers towards alternative architectures like multicore architectures.

There's nothing FAWNy about excessive power consumption, so take a few minutes and read this paper. It really is an important issue. FAWNdamentally Power-efficient Clusters.

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