TPC-Energy spec will spur higher data center efficiency

New spec tells data center operators which system setups deliver the most performance per watt

Sticker price, engine power, and luxury features have long been selling points for vehicles. Over the years, however, MPG (miles per gallon) has increasingly played a role in swaying a car buyer to choose one model instead of another. For some drivers, the impetus for purchasing a fuel-efficient car has been to reduce pain at the pump. For others, it's also a matter of better environmental stewardship; less fuel consumption means a smaller carbon footprint.

Similarly, data center operators who formerly based hardware-purchasing decisions on sticker price, processing power, and features such as storage capacity are increasingly taking an interest in machines' overall energy efficiency -- that is, how much electricity a system consumes to perform a specific number of tasks. Again, the driving forces here are primarily economic. Energy efficiency means lower electricity bills, and the cost of powering a server is by no means trivial. Energy efficiency can also mean fewer machines and more floor space in the data center. Moreover, environmental concerns play a role.

[ Other groups have introduced energy-efficiency benchmarks geared at the data center, including the EPA, SNIA, and SPEC. | InfoWorld blogger Paul Venezia demands the banishment of power-hungry spinning disks from servers. ]

In an effort to provide companies with a means of measuring the energy efficiency of data center equipment, the Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) this week introduced a specification called the TPC-Energy spec. TPC-Energy is intended to complement the group's existing specs, designed to measure the raw performance of a data center system (including server, storage equipment, and database) simulating an OLTP workload, as well as the cost/performance stats of data center setup -- specifically, performance in the context of the setup's purchase cost.

Notably, TPC-Energy should not be confused with TPC-E. The latter is a stand-alone TPC benchmark that simulates the online-transaction processing workload of a brokerage firm and specifically refers to the number of Trade-Result transactions a server can sustain over a period of time. 

Performance at a price
Measuring performance in the context of price is important. Consider a simple scenario: Two data center operators are running the exact same workloads -- same OS, same databases, same storage equipment, same everything except for the servers. Operator A has a high-end 64-socket machine loaded with the latest, fastest processor and loads of memory. Operator B has a single-socket machine with a midrange processor and modest memory. Presumably, the first setup will yield better performance -- but that data alone will be of limited interest to a data center operator on a budget and can't make purchases based solely on raw performance.

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