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Greener datacenters through Millicomputer clusters?

by Johan Strandler on Aug 28, 2007 |
One big problem with current large scale enterprise computing and data centers is power consumption, and a lot of effort is made in the industry to reduce the power need in current server platforms. Adrian Cockcroft is defining a new type of enterprise computing platform where he addresses this problem by defining a new type of computer: The Millicomputer - a computer that requires less than 1 Watt. The idea is to build enterprise servers out of commodity components from the battery powered mobile space. He presents a way to build an enterprise server using about 100 such Millicomputers in a cluster on a single 1U rack. This server only consumes less than 160W which is much less than comparable 1U rack enterprise servers of today. Cockcroft calls this disruptive innovation and he makes a prediction for 2010 that there could be a market for about 100,000 Milliclusters at $10K each, where each Millicluster packages 100 Millicomputers into an Enterprise Server.

The Millicomputer and MilliCluster hardware is developed as "Open Hardware", which means that the hardware design won't be owned by a single vendor. The Millicomputer is using LInux as the operating system and the hardware is based on a Freescale i.MX31 System-on-a-chip component using microSDHC flash memory. While the Millicomputer doesn't require much power by itself, external ethernet connections do. In order to save power, Cockcroft introduces the concept of "Enterprise MilliCluster", which allows 14 Millicomputers to be load balanced behind one Twin 1GB Ethernet external interface ethernet port by connecting by connecting them through a USB switch using Linux USBNet transport. The form factor to such a MilliCluster makes it possible to put 8 clusters plus a power unit on a single 1U rack, which consumes less than 160W - probably much less.

By comparing a MilliCluster based 1U server with Suns x4100 Operon and T1000 Niagara servers Cockcroft says:

"For the same 1U package size and similar cost per package power is much less than a Niagara, less than half of an Opteron system. Total RAM capacity is similar, the raw CPU GHz is double, worst case GHz per Watt is six times better than Opteron, three times better than Niagara. Flash storage is 1000x faster for both random and sequential IOPS.

Applications suitable to run on Millicomputers include:

Applications that can be broken into small chunks, small scale or horizontally scalable web workloads, legacy applications that used to run on 5 year old machines, graphical video caves and storage I/O intensive applications are the best candidates to run on Millicomputers."

Although in very early development, Millicomputing appears to be quite a paradigm shift; could this be the enterprise hardware platform of the (greener) future?

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