The content of this blog is my personal opinion only. Although I am an employee - currently of Imagination Technologies's MIPS group, in the past of other companies such as Intellectual Ventures, Intel, AMD, Motorola, and Gould - I reveal this only so that the reader may account for any possible bias I may have towards my employer's products. The statements I make here in no way represent my employer's position, nor am I authorized to speak on behalf of my employer. In fact, this posting may not even represent my personal opinion, since occasionally I play devil's advocate.

See http://docs.google.com/View?id=dcxddbtr_23cg5thdfj for photo credits.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Blogging from ISCA: ACLD: Chuck Thakker, Rethinking Data Centers

Chuck Thakker invented the PC and Ethernet.

Chuck is now a post-PC person. He has no laptop. He survives with a SmartPhone. (It wasn't clear if he showed a Windows Mobile SmartPhone or an iPhone.)

Datacenters... shipping containers full of servers.

Anecdote: shipping containers were designed as a system... they succeeded where others had failed because he made them into an ISO standard.

Anecdote: SF longshoremen fought containerization of Port of SF. Oakland did not. SF is no longer a commercial port.

Container advantages:

Side to side airflow not impeded by the server case. There is no case. The container is... Loop airflow. Big impeller fans.

Shock mounting at the server, not the rack.

Aggressive ideas:

Once through water: pump through datacenter, and then on to farms.

Power distribution: reduce conversion steps.

12VDC->1VDC point of load regulators ~90%

AC->12VDC 2 stage 85%. Can do better: combined power factor correction, etc.

AC transformers 98%

Final efficiency ~80%

UPC and backup generators aren't part of the picture until the grid fails.

Datacenter close to big hydro dam => reliability. Not cost.

Now 1 phase AC to rack. Direction 3 phase AC to rack. Balance, lower ripple. 12-20VAC? Select to maximize overall efficiency.

Commodity servers: HP, Rackable, others.

Thakker: "The PC ecosystem is awful. Terrible." IBM non-x86 servers not in PC ecosystem. "Design our own..."

Custom motherboards.

Commodity disks

Cables at front

Redesign power supply

Thakker: whats ECC / checking.

Use lower power processors, notebook rather than server. (Note, opposite HP Kauffman.)

Network switches expensve. Unreliable.

Data center network:

fixed top

limited nodes

no broadcast/multicast

security simpler

load balance

design goals:

get rid of large switches

push complexity to edge

standard link technology, but not standard protocols

he likes monsoon.

short copper, long optical

2 kinds of switch: middle of rack, boundary. Both can be implemnted using Xilinx Virtex 5 FPGAs. Prototypable...


boundary: 10 Gb ports, 64 copper to rack, 64 optical outside container

rack 20 1+1 Gb to servers, 2 x10Gb to container boundary switches

AFG Q: what switches are outside the containers?

route controllers. (I am not sure if those are outside the containers)

likes monsoon valiant load balancing.

boundary switches are synchronous. source routed. less packet like. long lived connections.


Commodity hardware ... network switches to connect commodity parts NOT commodity.



Treating data centers as systems, and do full system optimization.


Thakker likes ATM. ATM better than Ethernet cause it doesn't lose packets. Chuck allowed to say this, since he invented Ethernet. But IP community refused to cooperate with ATM.

I asked him a question about switches outside the containers. He said, none: the datacenter is nothing except server containers and the NOC (Network Operations Center).

I asked about containers of switches. Chuck had thought, but doesn't like reliability.

Audience Q: Server computers have a 3 year lifetime. The container itself - power, cooling - can be reused - send back to manufacturer, and upgrade computers.

Compare to servers with cooling integrated: then the cooling solution lifetime is reduced to the computer electronics lifetime.

Audience Q: free air cooling. Thakker: outside air variations. (AFG: Think, winter/summer in the Dalles.) Running electronics hotter bad, reliability.

Audience Q: is power density going to increase. Thakker: microchannels, etc., bad. 8KW/rack now. Thakker doesn't think we will see 24KW/rack.

Mark Horowitz: no more than 10 cores per chip.

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