Computer chips like Intel’s (INTC) Atom processor are designed for portable devices like laptops — and that means they run on low power, to prolong a laptop’s battery.
Which begs the question: If a company is really focused on energy efficiency, can’t it just design a data centre to run on grids of Atom processors instead of electricity-guzzling CPUs like the Intel Xeon which use 10 times as much energy?
Microsoft (MSFT) thinks so, and it working on new tech codenamed “Marlowe” (after novelist Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe character) to build data centres using low-power servers that can intelligently “sleep” and “wake up” — just like a portable computer.
NY Times: The company has applied sophisticated machine learning software to the Atom-based servers and tracked how they handle search requests on Microsoft Live over the course of a day.
When the software senses a lull in action, it can place large numbers of servers into sleep or hibernate modes so that they consume just 2 to 4 watts instead of the usual 28 to 37 watts. Then, in an ideal set-up, the software can anticipate when more active periods will resume and begin waking up the servers ahead of the incoming search requests. It usually takes the servers about 5 to 45 seconds to jump back into action.
Perhaps most important, Microsoft’s research code also demonstrates some abilities to handle sudden, unexpected spikes in requests.
The maths of “Multiple Atom processors + Marlowe > Xeon + high energy consumption?” is still open to question, but it’s a good question for Microsoft to be researching.
Besides the do-gooder appeal of decreased energy use, this could be a nice play for Microsoft. The cloud computing and virtualization crazes (not the least of them Microsoft’s own Azure) will push more and more processing into massive data centres over the next few years, places where this kind of tech can really shine.