When the Department of Energy announced that it was awarding 14 data center efficiency projects $47 million this morning, one name piqued my interest: SeaMicro. The stealthy server maker has remained under the radar despite raising at least $10 million from backers like Khosla Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson and Crosslink Capital and developing what could be a game-changing technology to address power consumption in data centers.
For the details on how the technology works, I turned to broadband infrastructure guru Stacey Higginbotham, GigaOM Senior Writer, to give us an explanation. Stacey says SeaMicro has built a box that contains 512 Atom CPUs, a petabyte of storage, and costs less than $100,000. The company hopes to use that box to sell into a market which chip-makers have largely ignored: There’s a huge range between low-power mobile chips and incredibly speedy high-performance chips, but most chip makers are neglecting opportunities in the middle range.
Stacey says using high performance chips in servers for regular old web page serving is like “using a nuclear bomb to take out a car.” And the excess processing power wastes a whole lot of energy. Since chip makers have been ignoring computing power needs in the mid-range, SeaMicro decided to re-architect server components and use the DOE funds to field test servers consisting of hundreds of low-power processors. SeaMicro explains the innovation as:
By efficient use of tiny interconnected Central Processing Units (CPUs) within a single server, demonstration of this patented technology is expected to save 75 percent of the computing energy over conventional servers.
If every regular old data center server used this technology, it would save a shocking amount of energy — and money on web companies’ monthly energy bills. And SeaMicro’s technology could remake computing power by just thinking outside the box and using already-available tools and components. Other companies looking at similar issues include Austin, Texas-based Smooth Stone.