The Era of MicroServers


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The Era of MicroServers is upon us. MicroServers will radically change the computing landscape much like mini-computers did when they first came on the scene. People and organizations will be able to do more computing while consuming less energy in very small form factors. It is only up to the imagination what can be accomplished with these new systems.

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The Era of MicroServers

  1. 1. The Era ofEnergy-EfficientMicroServers byPaul Morse6/24/2012
  2. 2. The Era of Energy-Efficient MicroServers Paul Morse INTRODUCTION The era of MicroServer technology is upon us and is about to begin in earnest. Estimates of adoption between now and 2015 vary, but are as high as a 49% compound growth rate for MicroServer adoption and reaching 15% of all Server systems sold. The combination of super energy-efficiency and more than adequate processing power for a wide variety of uses is providing an excellent value proposition for adopting MicroServers. This paper looks at some background for the momentum of MicroServers and explores some new applications of this up and coming form of computing platform. WHAT IS A MICROSERVER? As with many product types in the computing realm, there are huge vendor marketing teams that want to define technologies and their uses so the definition will be beneficial to the vendor. MicroServers seem to be following that same trajectory of definition with even Wikipedia lagging behind this fast moving technology sector. Most of the recent press about MicroServers is around HyperScale computing and large compute farms for cloud and Big Data implementations. MicroServers are certainly used in those roles, but if we define the term MicroServer as any Server computing platform that is extremely energy-efficient and can run traditional workloads with ease, then the realm of MicroServers is extended significantly. Using those guidelines we would have to include the new generation of powerful, energy-efficient Desktop Server solutions into the overall definition of MicroServer. MICROSERVERS WILL CHANGE COMPUTING That is a pretty bold statement, but if very capable servers the size of a book can handle tens of thousands of users and run on 12 Volts, or less, then new architectures and uses for portable, high capacity computing will start to be developed and enter the mainstream. The concept of having an easily expandable miniature data center on your desk, or in your car, or in your home, or in the middle of nowhere being run by solar or wind power and is reasonably priced changes the landscape of computing. “Data Center” ownership for the common person begins to emerge. Many will run cloud software and there will be departmental and classroom clouds, completely personal clouds and many other types of applications, including High Performance Computing1
  3. 3. The Era of Energy-Efficient MicroServers Paul Morse and big data solutions. Imagine a multi-node, multi-terabyte Hadoop or Cassandra cluster quietly running on your desk at home. That is possible today. The first examples of this new type of system are the US Micro PC, CriKit MicroServer and the CriKit Desktop Private Cloud that is built with CriKit MicroServers as its main compute engine. Organizations can now implement a multi-node cloud infrastructure on a desk and use less than 1,000 Watts of electricity for the entire computing complex. This was not possible in a mass commercial context even 2 years ago. The technology that enables this type of solution to be easily built was not available. THE TRAJECTORY OF COMPUTING POWER OVER TIME Moore’s law has been through many iterations and with each one computing has changed a little bit. However, with multiple cores and threads and innovation to reduce electrical consumption, the computing industry is at an inflection point. It’s been estimated that single, low-wattage processors that can address even moderate amounts of RAM and use Solid State Disks are nearly the application throughput equivalent of an 8 way server in 2000. I contend modern systems are more powerful today because inter-processor communication was not very efficient at that time. As an example, let’s look at a normalized graph of the single processor submissions to the Transaction Processing Council (TPC) from 2000 to 2010. 300000 250000 200000 150000 100000 50000 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Figure 1 – Single Processor TPC submissions - Source: http://ww.tpc.org2
  4. 4. The Era of Energy-Efficient MicroServers Paul Morse The latest single processor submission reached 290,000 Transactions per Minute. This was done with a 6 core, 12 thread processor, but how many organizations need 290,000 transactions per minute? A system that is 1/10 as capable could theoretically do 29,000 transactions per minute. How many organizations even need that many transactions? The point is single processor MicroServers have entered high transaction rate territory and they are only getting more capable as time goes on. Further, as shown by this second graph, the cost per transaction of single processor TPC submissions is declining rapidly. And again, this trend will continue. 5.00 4.00 3.00 2.00 1.00 0.00 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Figure 2 – Diminishing Cost Per Transaction In addition, the energy needed to produce these results is also declining. The net here is that single processor solutions are getting significantly more powerful, while the costs and energy required to provide the value in the solution are decreasing. This is very good news for implementers of computing solutions that are also charged with lowering the carbon footprint associated with the computing environment. Further, MicroServers are at the vanguard of these very advantageous trends.3
  5. 5. The Era of Energy-Efficient MicroServers Paul Morse WHY NOT JUST USE THE PUBLIC CLOUD? That is a question many people ask and there are several perspectives to the answer. It seems the universe of computing solutions continues to expand and there is a lot of room for a wide variety of approaches to solve the same problem. Desktop MicroServers fit in a unique, but expanding space. Relative to Public Cloud, solutions built on Desktop MicroServers can be architected to be standalone solutions or Hybrid Cloud solutions. In the context of being directly competitive to Public Cloud, a CriKit MicroServer is the rough compute equivalent to an Extra Large Instance in Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure. The approximate cost for an Extra Large instance in those solutions is $20.00, plus bandwidth, storage and possibly transactions per day. If the MicroServer costs $2,500.00, the ROI period is probably less than 100 days depending on the type of solution being created. And you own the MicroServer, and it is on- premise which means things happen a lot faster, and there is no opportunity for a Cloud Bill that is a complete surprise to the user. For certain types of projects, public clouds simply don’t work. For example, if you are in an organization that uses Xen, ESXi and Hyper-V and you need to test a software management solution that claims to manage all three, there is really no way to test that with the major public cloud providers. You would need to run all three hypervisor environments simultaneously and test the management software. Desktop MicroServers are a perfect solution for that specific situation. There are many other situations around software development, testing and training that are easily enabled by flexible MicroServers where it would be difficult and time and resource consumptive to do them in a public cloud. THE TIME TO ACT IS NOW If it were 1970 and someone walked into NASA with a CriKit MicroServer, they would either be thought an alien or they would be locked up for being insane, or both. After having presented and demoed the CriKit MicroServer and CriKit Desktop Private Cloud to many very enthusiastic technologists, I can only say that there is an element of disbelief. The compute nodes simply seem too small to be as powerful as they are. In my opinion, this will be a main hurdle to adoption of these very capable computing platforms. The subconscious sentiment seems to be, this computer, the size and weight of a Chemistry text book, simply can’t be as powerful as I have witnessed. They see it and still don’t internalize it. Time and testing and successful proof of concepts will slowly change that mind-set. The compute power and the energy-savings are very real and super advantageous to organizations of all sizes. MicroServer experimentation4
  6. 6. The Era of Energy-Efficient MicroServers Paul Morse must begin now to accelerate the reaping of the eventual benefits of this new computing technology. OTHER USES OF MICROSERVERS Bill Gates once said something about how companies will eventually give away hardware to sell software. With inexpensive, portable MicroServers we are in the final step of that becoming a reality. Think about it. An organization can significantly compress the sales cycle if they can walk in the door with some number of MicroServers fully loaded with their complex software and show it to the prospect or even configure it for their environment and leave it on site for some period of time. Further, it would be interesting if organizations kept MicroServers on site so vendors could come in and configure their software for a tailored demo to that specific customer. Organizations would be better able to evaluate vendor offerings by seeing them in action on-site and the cost for the MicroServers is negligible compared to the value of being able to evaluate the product without assigning significant IT resources. This type of scenario could become Standard Operating Procedure across the industry. Also, the concept of a portable, solar or wind powered Mini-DataCenter is very intriguing. How can they be configured with wireless routers to enable truly remote classrooms, or data collection at inoculation sites in Africa, or rapid response firefighting teams where there is no cellular signal access. What would you do with a multi-node, Mini-DataCenter that sits on a desk and draws less than 1,000 Watts of electricity? In the West, we take computing and continuous electricity for granted, but in a large percentage of the world, those things are luxuries and sometimes non-existent. Solar or wind powered MicroServers will enable a whole new generation of solutions in places where learning and using computing has only been a dream. CONCLUSION Recently, HP and Intel provided a press release where they said people should take MicroServers seriously. That was sage advice. The advantages of MicroServers are significant both for new workloads and for migrating and consolidating workloads off of much less energy- efficient servers on to low-wattage MicroServers. The MicroServer era has just begun and it will offer many benefits to organizations and to the environment. You should begin your5
  7. 7. The Era of Energy-Efficient MicroServers Paul Morse investigation and adoption of MicroServers today and learn how they can help reduce electrical consumption and lower an organization’s carbon footprint. © 2012 Paul Morse6