The New Power Equation

Tired of renting data-center space and buying more air conditioners? Dual-core chips provide an answer.
Azul is pushing the multicore approach to even greater extremes with servers that incorporate the company's Vega processor, which integrates 24 RISC-based processing elements on a single core. Azul is offering systems that combine up to 16 Vega chips for a total of 384 processing cores, and it most recently added a platform that combines Vega-based servers with servers using Intel Xeon processors.

Pegasus' new Azul servers need less power and space than other servers, chief technology officer Lapekas says. -- Photo by Nancy Newberry

Pegasus' new Azul servers need less power and space than other servers, chief technology officer Lapekas says.

Photo by Nancy Newberry
Pegasus Solutions Inc., which provides transaction-processing and E-commerce services to the hotel industry, is installing two Azul servers with a total of 192 processor cores, plus a 96-processor-core server that will serve as a testing environment.

Pegasus has seen use of its hotel-booking Web service increase about 25% annually, and in August it handled more than 1 billion transactions, creating 3.3 million bookings. The company usually spends around $4 million each year to increase its data-center capabilities. But the Azul machines will cut that outlay in half, says Steve Lapekas, Pegasus' chief technology officer. The new servers need less space and power than other servers, Lapekas says, and he can get the computing power he needs in one rack of servers instead of five.

"It's a no-brainer that multicore is what will eventually happen in the data center, but what Azul is doing is an extremely disruptive technology that has taken years out of the road map some other chip vendors are slowly rolling out," he says.

Is it too risky using a relatively unknown vendor to run the business' core systems? The Azul platform is optimized to run a Java 2 Enterprise Edition environment used by Pegasus and lets the company redirect to other projects the $2 million it saved by using multicore servers to expand its data center, Lapekas says. "We're not risk takers," he says. "You can't overbook a hotel like you can a plane, because no one is going to take a $200 voucher to sleep in the street."

Most companies aren't ready to leap from dual-core to megacore processing, says Jason Waxman, director of server segments and technologies for Intel's digital enterprise group. "Customers, when they think about quad-cores being a couple of years away, start worrying about whether their applications will scale," he says. "Customers don't want to take a huge step back in frequency to get multiple cores on a chip, and they aren't convinced that the multithreaded environments and an ability to get to service-oriented architectures are so imminently achievable. They aren't ready for eight-core processors today. They want a transition that makes sense."

Reasons For Switching
Paradigm Geotechnology B.V., a provider of services and software used in oil and gas exploration, is moving to dual core to increase its computing capabilities and reduce electrical costs without increasing the size of its data center. As important in the final decision was an easy migration, says David Verdun, VP of R&D and technical support.

We're getting a good deal better throughput and performance. -- Paradigm VP Verdun

We're getting a good deal better throughput and performance.
-- Paradigm VP Verdun
The company is switching out 280 nodes of a Dell PowerEdge 1850 computing cluster in its Houston facility with dual-core Xeon processors. Para- digm will be able to reuse the existing chassis that holds its single-core Xeon platforms. If all goes well, Verdun plans a similar size switch within the data center in 2006. "We're getting a good deal better throughput and performance, and it's a bit cheaper in cost and fits into our current infrastructure," he says.

Besides Houston, Paradigm operates data centers in Africa, Canada, and India, and also leases computing resources from outsourcing vendors. The Houston center was nearly full, so the company was faced with building an additional facility, increasing its outsourcing, or finding a way to better use its existing floor space. Dual core was the answer.

It may become the answer for more businesses willing to take some early-adopter risk in return for big benefits: eliminating the need to expand a data center, reducing air-conditioning requirements, improving system reliability, and providing more computing horsepower for lower overall costs.

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