Pizza Boxes Are Power Hogs

As everyone knows, you get what you pay for. That maxim certainly holds true for Internet infrastructure, especially when it comes to servers. Over the past few years there has been an explosion of low-cost appliance servers – also known as pizza box servers — and they now account for a formidable portion of the Internet infrastructure. And though cheap in price, they are turning out to be power hogs.

“These servers are cheap to buy but consume a lot of energy and their utilization is pretty low,” said Jonathan Koomey, project scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and consulting professor at Stanford University, who recently conducted a study on the power requirements for servers. “The utilization is below 20 percent and we really need to focus on virtualization to get more from these boxes.”

According to his estimates, volume servers, or the low-end devices that include the pizza box servers, consumed over 50.5 billion kilowatt  hours in 2005, up from 19.7 billion kWh in 2000. That number surely must have increased by now. From 1996 through 2006, the sales of volume servers jumped from 1.41 million units to 7.282 million units, according to information collected by International Data Corp., a market research firm.

“Some of these (pizza box servers) throw up a lot of heat and are power hogs,” said Tim Sullivan, Chief Technology Officer of Internap, a data center and CDN provider, during a call with company’s management earlier today. He said that they are asking clients to better utilize the data center space and putting fewer of these pizza boxes in a more efficient manner.

One of the reasons these pizza box servers are inefficient is because they’re being made to do tasks for which they were not built. Back in the late 1990s, the form factor became popular with the large corporations, and there was plenty of space (and power) in the data centers. However, as web infrastructure needs have increased, so has the number of servers. Even tiny startups are beginning to buy 1,000 of these boxes to just stay in business.

As their numbers increase, and the problems mount, it makes me wonder if we’ll soon see the pendulum swing to the “big iron.” Thoughts, anyone?

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