"What I believe will be coming is applications that tune the frequency of the server CPU, [so the application] can dynamically overclock or shrink the [CPU] frequency by demand. The physical infrastructure will dynamically match to the load," Nelson said. Moreover, the application requirements could also control the amount of cooling needed. "That is a truly dynamic data center, and that's where I want to get to," he said.
As it happens, this sort of scalable computing is what Intel is trying to achieve with its successive generations of processors.
"Computers seldom work at full workload," admitted Winston Saunders, Intel's director of power initiatives, in an additional talk.
The goal Intel is working on is to develop chips that use "only the amount of energy necessary to scale to the load," Saunders said. Already, some power-saving technologies have been built into the company's processors. For example, the Xeon 5600 has a wide array of power-saving technologies, such as the ability to power down cores and flush the cache when the processor is only being lightly used.
Saunders promised that each new generation of processors will feature gains in energy efficiency and that the company is aiming toward "energy-proportional computing," in which the power usage scales smoothly with the workload.
The CPU accounts for only about half of the power that a server uses, though. For dynamic power scaling to truly work, all the server components -- fans, memory, disk drives and other components -- must scale with the application workload, Stanley said.
Such coordination will need to go beyond server component makers and extend across all aspects of data center operations, Bernard said. "If you look at any one slice, which is what people tend to think about, all you do is push the problem up or down the stack," Bernard said. The application managers must work more closely with the data center operators and even the facilities managers, to work out the most efficient operations overall.
"The idea is to not think about more transactions per watt, but to think about fewer watts per transaction," Bernard said.