EMC teams with Intel for power-efficient cloud storage

EMC is working with Intel on a more energy-efficient version of EMC’s Atmos cloud storage system that should be available in the second half of next year, the companies said Thursday.

It’s one of several ways that Intel is working with other vendors to design more power-efficient systems for companies offering cloud computing services, Intel General Manager Jason Waxman told reporters at a joint briefing with EMC. The chip maker also announced a program with software vendors to test software management stacks for use in large, scale-out data centers.

Atmos is a hardware and software platform used mainly by service providers to manage multi-petabyte storage systems that can be spread across several data centers. AT&T’s pay-as-you-go Synaptic hosting service is based on Atmos, for example, according to EMC.

Power management is the top concern for EMC’s customers, said Michael Feinberg, senior vice president with EMC’s cloud infrastructure group. Besides the cost per megawatt, many customers are being constrained by the power capacity of their data centers, he said.

EMC can do some things to make Atmos more power-efficient, such as turning off disks when they are not in use. “But we do not right now have the ability to manage power at the server level,” Feinberg said.

EMC hopes to release a version of Atmos in the second half of next year that will be able to do just that, using Intel power management tools that are supported by its 5500-series Nehalem processors.

The Nehalem chips work with Intel’s Node Manager tool, which can turn down the clock speed of its chips when they don’t need to work at full capacity, reducing power consumption. They also work with its Data Center Manager software, which can cap the amount of power drawn by a pool of servers based on various policies.

The companies are testing pilot systems that integrate the power management tools with Atmos, giving customers the option to power down server processors when demand on the systems is light. They hope to release it as a “turnkey solution” in the second half of next year, Feinberg said.

They didn’t provide many other details, and it wasn’t clear whether the capabilities would be included in the price of Atmos or sold as an add-on.

In pilot tests, the combined system has reduced power consumption at the rack level by 15 percent, according to Prasada Rampalli, Intel director for end-user platform integration. “When you multiply that across 100,000 servers, that’s a lot of money,” he said.

Intel also announced the Cloud Builder Program, where it’s working with software vendors to test software stacks for managing data centers that use virtualization to manage workloads across a high volume of Intel-based servers.

Service providers such as Google and Microsoft worked for years to develop their cloud infrastructures, often using custom hardware and software, Intel’s Waxman said. Customers are faced with a sea of decisions and need help getting their infrastructure up and running, he said.

Through the cloud program, software vendors will test their software on large pools of servers with the goal of coming up with stacks and configurations that customers can replicate in their own data centers.

“We’re not going to solve world hunger here, but if we can give you a blueprint, a starting point, then maybe we can reduce that lead time from years to months,” he said.

There are only eight partners in the program today — Citrix Systems, VMware, Parallels, Microsoft, Red Hat, Canonical, Univa UD and the Xen consortium — but Intel hopes to add more over time. It will release white papers with best practices to help customers build the management systems.

Intel also showed off a hardware mock-up of the “micro server” it announced at the Intel Developer Forum last month. It’s based on a reference design that Intel created to show server makers the kind of product they can build with its chips.

The system is based on a Xeon processor, the L3426, which consumes 45 watts of power, although Intel is developing a 30-watt chip that it says it will release in the first quarter next year. Sixteen small server boards each slot vertically into a 5u server rack, along with 16 storage bays that each can accommodate three or four SCSI drives.

It’s designed for companies doing horizontal, scale-out computing who want high compute density with minimum power draw. Intel is competing in this area with Via Technologies, whose Nano chips have been used in custom servers built by Dell, and Advanced Micro Devices, whose processors are used in Rackable Systems MicroSlice servers.

Waxman said Intel will submit the reference design to an industry group called the Server System Infrastructure Forum, in the hope that it will be adopted as a standard that server, storage and networking manufacturers will adopt. 

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