Dell outlines plan to help customers cut energy costs

Dell Inc. on Wednesday talked about steps that it is taking to improve energy efficiency in servers, also outlining a server-refresh cycle that could help customers cut energy costs in the long run.

The company is fitting higher-quality components into servers and pushing virtualization as a way to consolidate workloads and possibly help cut energy costs, Dell officials said in a meeting on Wednesday in San Francisco.

Historically, Dell has been known for selling servers at good value. The company said it's now willing to trade in that price advantage to offer high-quality hardware that can balance server workloads and cut energy costs. That will help customers save money in comparison with vintage and low-cost servers that are not designed to run critical data center applications, said Rick Becker, vice president of software and solutions at Dell.

Though server prices may increase, the improved hardware can pay for itself in three years, said Albert Esser, vice president of Dell's data center infrastructure group.

Instead of the typical seven-to-eight-year refresh cycle, a two-to-three-year cycle to upgrade hardware and service warranties could come into effect to take advantage of the latest server technologies, he said.

"It is very clear that refresh rates of three years ... the total cost of ownership is less than keeping your old machines running," Esser said. Old servers unable to distribute workloads could use excess power and lead to systems administrators buying exponentially more expensive servers to fill IT needs, he said.

Dell is trying to design its server hardware to take advantage of virtualization, where workloads can be divided over a server sprawl to reduce overall power intake by a data center.

"Virtualization requires an awful lot of memory but doesn't require an awful lot of CPU horsepower," Esser said. Dell plans to load two-socket servers with memory attachments typically found in four-socket servers, Esser said. Similarly, four-socket servers will have memory attachments typically found in eight-socket servers.

To optimize data center power intake, the hardware needs be updated every two to three years, Esser said. Improved hardware with virtualized environments can pay back for itself in a span over three years, Esser said. Outdated hardware may be unable to handle advances in virtualization and workload management.

"As long as you make your applications able to follow that improvement, the [hardware] refresh rate works in your favor," Esser said.

The company already ships products that are enabled for VMware, Microsoft's Hyper-V and XenServer hypervisors, a thin piece of software that unites multiple operating systems on a server and allocates resources accordingly.

Dell said it is offering customers a blueprint of technologies that can be used in data centers to cut energy costs.

"We come in and show [customers] how to virtualize their data center, then we get out of the way and let them save some money," Becker said. Dell said it also plans to leverage its Web site and the cloud to help customers manage virtual images.

Cutting energy costs also depends on balancing energy consumed by components such as chip sets and fans. Dell plans to improve power management technologies bundled in servers, but it declined to provide further details.

The company is also working with partners to make power supplies more energy efficient. More efficient power supplies typically cost more, but Dell said it is trying to provide maximum efficiency at a cost affordable to server customers. As the energy efficiency of power supplies increases, the component's cost is mitigated by higher supply volumes, Esser said.

Dell is re-energizing its data center hardware development with a renewed message surrounding power efficiency and high-quality products, said Jean Bozman, research vice president at IDC.

The company is telling IT managers to be mindful and smart when addressing powering and cooling data centers during these tough economic times, Bozman said. According to an IDC survey in 2008, 21.8% of IT managers surveyed felt power and cooling as the top challenge facing data centers.

Many servers during the dot-com boom were employed to fill Web capacity without keeping power and cooling in mind, Bozman said. Data centers at that time had a mix of large and small servers, while small servers dominate data centers today.

Dell also wants IT managers to discard old gear that is least efficient and move workloads to new energy-efficient servers capable of virtualization, Bozman said.

Since Michael Dell came back to lead the company in 2007, it has taken a different approach to engineering technologies for enterprise servers and storage products, Dell's Becker said.

"The very first thing we asked as a trade-off was around energy efficiency because we knew ... if we were going to deliver the most value to customers, it's going to be around the most effective use of energy. Doing that right saves them a bunch of money over low-acquisition costs, even if it's a more expensive power supply," Becker said.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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