Performance per Watt rules the datacenter, right? Wrong. Yes, you would easily be lead astray after the endless "Green ICT" conferences, the many power limited datacenters, and the flood of new technologies that all have the "Performance/Watt" stamp. But if performance per Watt is all that counts, we would be all be running atom and ARM based servers. Some people do promote Atom based servers, but outside niche markets we don't think it will be a huge success. Why not? Think about it: what is the ultimate goal of a datacenter? The answer is of course the same as for the enterprise as a whole: serve as many (internal or external) customers as possible with the lowest response time at the lowest cost.

So what really matters? Attaining a certain level of performance. At that point you want the lowest power consumption possible, but first you want to attain the level of performance where your customers are satisfied. So it is power efficiency at a certain performance level that you are after, not the best performance/Watt ratio. Twenty times lower power for 5 times lower performance might seem an excellent choice from the performance/watt point of view, but if your customers get frustrated with the high response times they will quit. Case closed. And customers are easily frustrated. "Would users prefer 10 search results in 0.4 seconds or 25 results in 0.9 seconds?" That is a question Google asked [1]. They found out to their surprise that a significant number of users got bored and moved on if they had to wait 0.9 seconds. Not everyone has an application like Google, but in these virtualized times we don't waste massive amounts of performance as we used to in the beginning of this century. Extra performance and RAM space is turned into more servers per physical server, or business efficiency. So it is very important not to forget how demanding we all are as customers when we are browsing and searching.

Modern CPUs have a vast array of high-tech weapons to offer good performance at the lowest power possible. PowerNow!, SpeedStep, Cache Sizing, CoolCore, Smart Fetch, PCU, Independent Dynamic Core Technology, Deep Sleep, and even Deeper Sleep. Some of those technologies have matured and offer significant power savings with negligible performance impact. A lot of them are user configurable: you can disable/enable them in the BIOS or they get activated if you chose a certain power plan in the operating system. Those that are configurable are so for a good reason: the performance hit is significant in some applications and the power savings are not always worth the performance hit. In addition, even if such technologies are active under the hood of the CPU package, it is no guarantee that the operating system makes good use of it.

How do we strike the right balance between performance and energy consumption? That is the goal of this new series of articles. But let's not get ahead of ourselves; before we can even talk about increasing power efficiency at a certain performance point, we have to understand how it all works. This first article dives deep into power management, to understand what works and what only works on PowerPoint slides. There is more to it than enabling SpeedStep in your server. For example, Intel has been very creative with Turbo Boost and Hyper-Threading lately. Both should increase performance in a very efficient way. But does the performance boost come with an acceptable power consumption increase? What is acceptable or not depends on your own priorities and applications, but we will try to give you a number of data points that can help you decide. Whether you enable some power management technologies, how you configure your OS is not the only decision you have to make as you attempt to provide more efficient servers.

Both AMD and Intel have been bringing out low power versions of their CPUs that trade clock speed for lower maximum power. Are they really worth the investment? A prime example of how the new generation forces you to make a lot of decisions is the Xeon L3426: a Xeon "Lynnfield" which runs at 1.86GHz and consumes 45W in the worst case according to Intel. What makes this CPU special is that it can boost its clock to 3.2GHz if you are running only a few active threads. This should lower response times when relatively few users are using your application, but what about power consumption? AMD's latest Opteron offers six cores at pretty low power consumption points, and it can lower its clock from 2.6GHz all the way down to 800MHz. That should result in significant power savings but the performance impact might be significant too. We have lots of questions, so let's start by understanding what happens under the hood, in good old AnandTech "nuts and bolts" tradition.

Warning: This article is not suited for quick consumption. Remember, you come to AnandTech for hard hitting analysis, and that's what this article aims to provide! Please take your time… there will be a quiz at the end. ;-)

How Does Power Management Work?
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  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - link

    Well, Oracle has a few downsides when it comes to this kind of testing. It is not very popular in the smaller and medium business AFAIK (our main target), and we still haven't worked out why it performs much worse on Linux than on Windows. So chosing Oracle is a sure way to make the projecttime explode...IMHO.
  • ChristopherRice - Thursday, January 21, 2010 - link

    Works worse on Linux then windows? You have a setup issue likely with the kernel parameters or within oracle itself. I actually don't know of any enterprise location that uses oracle on windows anymore. "Generally all Rhel4/Rhel5/Sun".
  • TeXWiller - Monday, January 18, 2010 - link

    The 34xx series supports four quad rank modules, giving today a maximum supported amount of 32GB per CPU (and board). The 24GB limit is that of the three channel controller with unbuffered memory modules.
  • pablo906 - Monday, January 18, 2010 - link

    I love Johan's articles. I think this has some implications in how virtualization solutions may be the most cost effective. When you're running at 75% capacity on every server I think the AMD solution could have possibly become more attractive. I think I'm going to have to do some independent testin in my datacenter with this.

    I'd like to mention that focusing on VMWare is a disservice to Vt technology as a whole. It would be like not having benchmarked the K6-3+ just because P2's and Celerons were the mainstream and SS7 boards weren't quite up to par. There are situations, primarily virtualizing Linux, where Citrix XenServer is a better solution. Also many people who are buying Server '08 licenses are getting Hyper-V licenses bundled in for "free."

    I've known several IT Directors in very large Health Care organization who are deploying a mixed Hyper-V XenServer environment because of the "integration" between the two. Many of the people I've talked to at events around the country are using this model for at least part of the Virtualization deployments. I believe it would be important to publish to the industry what kind of performance you can expect from deployments.

    You can do some really interesting HomeBrew SAN deployments with OpenFiler or OpeniSCSI that can compete with the performance of EMC, Clarion, NetApp, LeftHand, etc. NFS deployments I've found can bring you better performance and manageability. I would love to see some articles about the strengths and weaknesses of the storage subsystem used and how it affects each type of deployment. I would absolutely be willing to devote some datacenter time and experience with helping put something like this together.

    I think this article really lends itself well into tieing with the Virtualization talks and I would love to see more comments on what you think this means to someone with a small, medium, and large datacenter.
  • maveric7911 - Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - link

    I'd personally prefer to see kvm over xenserver. Even redhat is ditching xen for kvm. In the environments I work in, xen is actually being decommissioned for VMware.
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - link

    I can see the theoretical reasons why some people are excited about KVM, but I still don't see the practical ones. Who is using this in production? Getting Xen, VMware or Hyper-V do their job is pretty easy, KVM does not seem to be even close to being beta. It is hard to get working, and it nowhere near to Xen when it comes to reliabilty. Admitted, those are our first impressions, but we are no virtualization rookies.

    Why do you prefer KVM?
  • VJ - Wednesday, January 20, 2010 - link

    "It is hard to get working, and it nowhere near to Xen when it comes to reliabilty. "

    I found Xen (separate kernel boot at the time) more difficult to work with than KVM (kernel module) so I'm thinking that the particular (host) platform you're using (windows?) may be geared towards one platform.

    If you had to set it up yourself then that may explain reliability issues you've had?

    On Fedora linux, it shouldn't be more difficult than Xen.
  • Toadster - Monday, January 18, 2010 - link

    One of the new technologies released with Xeon 5500 (Nehalem) is Intel Intelligent Power Node Manager which controls P/T states within the server CPU. This is a good article on existing P/C states, but will you guys be doing a review of newer control technologies as well?">
  • JohanAnandtech - Tuesday, January 19, 2010 - link

    I don't think it is "newer". Going to C6 for idle cores is less than a year old remember :-).

    It seems to be a sort of manager which monitors the electrical input (PDU based?) and then lowers the p-states to keep the power at certain level. Did I miss something? (quickly glanced)

    I think personally that HP is more onto something by capping the power inside their server management software. But I still have to evaluate both. We will look into that.
  • n0nsense - Monday, January 18, 2010 - link

    May be i missed something in the article, but from what I see at home C2Q (and C2D) can manage frequencies per core.
    i'm not sure it is possible under Windows, but in Linux it just works this way. You can actually see each core at its own frequency.
    Moreover, you can select for each core which frequency it should run.

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