Dell outlines plan to help customers cut energy costs

Dell is fitting higher quality components into servers and pushing virtualization to consolidate workloads that could help cut energy costs

Dell on Wednesday talked about steps the company 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 to consolidate workloads that could help cut energy costs, Dell officials said in a meeting on Wednesday in San Francisco.

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Historically, Dell has been known for selling servers at good value. The company is now willing to trade in the price advantage to offer high-quality hardware that can balance server workloads and cut energy costs. That will help customers save money compared to vintage and low-cost servers that are not designed to run critical datacenter 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 datacenter 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 , Esser 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 utilize excess power and lead to system administrators buying exponentially expensive servers to fill IT needs.

New servers can distribute workloads more effectively to reduce energy costs. 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 datacenter.

"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 datacenter power intake, the hardware also 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 offers customers a blueprint of technologies that can be used in datacenters to cut energy costs.

"We come in and show [customers] how to virtualize their datacenter, then we get out of the way and let them save some money," Becker said. Dell 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 like chip sets and fans. Dell plans to improve power management technologies bundled in servers, but declined to provide further details.

The company is also working with partners to make power supplies more energy efficient. Typically more efficient power supplies cost more, but Dell 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 reenergizing its datacenter 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 datacenters during these tough economic times, Bozman said. According to an IDC survey in 2008, 21.8 percent of IT managers surveyed felt power and cooling as the top challenge facing datacenters.

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

Dell also wants IT managers to chuck old gear that is least energy 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.

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