Backed by industry heavyweights, SPECpower_ssj2008 will be a building block for future power-performance standards
Over the past year or so, there's been plenty of head-scratching as to how to meaningfully measure a server's power performance: that is, how efficiently it uses energy to do its work. This kind of metric is important as datacenter operators struggle to keep energy costs down and free up floor space -- without sacrificing service quality.
Plenty of folks have invested resources and brainpower in the task, from independent analysts such as Neal Nelson and Associates and InfoWorld's chief technologist Tom Yager to large-scale organizations such as The Green Grid and even the EPA.
Thus, I was rather intrigued to learn this week that SPEC (Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation) has announced what it deems "the first industry-standard benchmark that measures power consumption in relation to performance for server-class computers." It's called SPECpower_ssj2008, a name that doesn't so much roll off the tongue as ooze -- but what's in a name, anyway?
Driving toward meaningful metrics
Before digging into the nitty-gritty of SPECpower_ssj2008, I want to provide some context as to why a server power-performance benchmark has proven elusive. As I said, plenty of smart people have been trying to devise one, and at first blush, it may seem like a deceptively simple task.
I like to compare it to the MPG measurement used to assess vehicles' fuel efficiency. You simply divide the number of miles you've traveled by the number of gallons used, and voilá, you have a meaningful measurement with which you can easily compare vehicular fuel efficiency. A high MPG, such as that you might get from a hybrid sedan, is deemed good. The low MPG you might get from an SUV is bad. Easy.
But wait: Perhaps it's not quite so cut and dry. Is it really meaningful to compare the gas mileage of a hybrid to that of an SUV if you don't factor in how the respective vehicles are being used? If you're comparing the two when the application is carrying three passengers and light baggage down Highway 5 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, the hybrid wins, hands down.