Welcome!

Related Topics: Microservices Expo, Java IoT, Open Source Cloud, Containers Expo Blog, Machine Learning , @CloudExpo

Microservices Expo: Article

Search for Energy Efficient Servers Leads Ex-Weatherman to Build-a-Blade

Mix and Match Mini-ITX Blades Fit the Task and Lower the Energy Bill

The Next Blade Revolution Begins
Open platforms have always meant more cost savings and greater flexibility in business computing. In the ‘80s, proprietary desktops gave way to clones, and the ‘90s saw proprietary servers and workstations dissolve into off-the-shelf x86 architectures. Today, a handful of "big iron" vendors own the blade market with their proprietary enclosures and restrictive designs...and history is about to repeat itself.

Change in the Wind
In 1978, Anthony Watts was a Purdue-trained TV meteorologist with a background in electrical engineering. By 1985, when Willard Scott was in his prime, Watts invented the first NTSC broadcast encoder for the IBM PC for use in television weather broadcasts. Not content with the then-blazing 6 MHz of IBM AT machines, which could take up to ten minutes to render a single frame, Watts modded the computers with a custom cooling design, allowing them to double their stock speeds, and started using them for processing weather graphics data. His company, IntelliWeather, soon created some of the first-ever PC-based broadcast TV weather systems, and a decade later, he was supplying weather graphics and display solutions to CBS News as well as TV stations around the USA

Over nearly two decades of innovation, IntelliWeather progressed from 16-color displays to today's full-color HD. Whereas it once took minutes to render a frame, today's 30 fps output is done in nearly real-time. The incoming streams of data from NOAA satellite feeds are massive enough to fill eight T1 lines every second. Not surprisingly, it takes a lot of computing power to render so much raw data into forms that broadcasters and scientists can use.

IntelliWeather has its own server farm, and each server tends to have its own job. Some do pre-processing, some render, and so on. The workflow is linear from incoming satellite feed through processing and on to another server farm in Sacramento that distributes finished data to television stations. As the data load increases, both in input and output, Watts and IntelliWeather continually need more processing capability and more servers.

Slicing the Power
Through eBay in 2008, Watts connected with a movie production company doing CGI that no longer needed an entire rack of Intel 1U rendering servers. Watts purchased the whole stack, installed them, and everything was fine because initial utilization of the new machines was fairly low. However, by the summer of 2010, every server was running nearly at capacity around the clock, each one continuously pulling about 180W. The more heat the servers generated, the more air conditioning had to be used. Warm season power bills just for this server stack were hitting $3,000 per month-no small expense for a small company.

Like so many other SMBs and small enterprises, IntelliWeather needed a better way to scale its computing capabilities while taking a leap in power efficiency. At the same time, it needed a better answer as to how it should dispose of existing servers that had reached their end of life. Donating that end of life technology to Computers For Classrooms was fine, but perhaps there was a better long-term approach.

In recent years, the rise of blade servers addressed some of Watts's needs but not enough of them. He investigated many of the blade options from top name manufacturers. Like all blade offerings, they offered the ability to start with one server in an enclosure and add more blades as needs dictated. In terms of footprint, the blade systems were more space-efficient than usual rackmount servers. However, every blade solution IntelliWeather examined was proprietary, requiring the vendor's own motherboards for that particular blade platform for any upgrading or replacements. Furthermore, the amount of energy savings advertised was not in line with Watts's needs.

So Watts did what any former electrical engineer and hardware hacker would do. He built what he wanted from scratch, just like he did for broadcast TV display systems.

Better with Build-a-Blade
First, Watts knew that different processing tasks require different types of server capabilities. The heavy lifting of rendering might benefit most from a cutting edge Xeon or Core i7 processor, but a server tasked with downloading from a low-speed, secondary satellite channel needs nothing more than a budget-friendly VIA C7. In traditional blade systems he examined, it was impossible to accommodate such diversity.

Second, to make systems upgradeable for the long-term, form factors are needed. An ATX desktop PC chassis purchased 15 years ago is still compatible with any ATX or microATX motherboard sold today because ATX is a widely adopted open standard. Yet such standards have never existed in the world of blade servers.

Third, even though big name blade systems advertise highly integrated power efficiency, energy savings gained through integration can be more than tossed away by requiring higher-consuming components than needed for the tasks at hand. Why require a 120W TDP processor on a blade when a 20W chip will serve equally well for much less money (both up front and ongoing)? Furthermore, the internal AC power supplies used in conventional blade systems are inherently less efficient than DC options. Studies have shown that data centers can realize power-saving improvements of over 28% by switching from AC to DC power distribution. Similar benefits can be realized at the rack and system level from making similar changes. Using DC power for computers isn't new; every notebook PC does it. But until now, the application to blade systems has been limited. With the popularization of green technology and demanding better energy efficiency, there has been a renewed interest in DC power systems.

IntelliWeather, branding its broadcast hardware as ITWorks, spent two years designing and refining its new Build-a-Blade product. Quite simply, Build-a-Blade is a 6U enclosure that can fit up to nine blades. Each blade is designed to fit any Mini-ITX or Thin Mini-ITX motherboard and up to six 2.5" storage drives, or a single 3.5" drive. Mini-ITX is a standard open form factor, originally designed by VIA in 2001, that is only gaining in popularity as the move for smaller, more energy-efficient systems continues.

Each Build-a-Blade tray uses a 12VDC power input port that links back to a dedicated DC "brick" on the enclosure's communal power supply tray. If a PSU ever goes bad, the user simply unplugs the appropriate brick from the tray, fastens down a new one in its spot, and the maintenance is complete. There's no complex disassembly involved, as in some other blade designs. Further, the DC power port enables these systems to be fueled by solar or wind power (with appropriate battery backup). Target applications might be in remote telecommuncations or mobile scenarios wherein a number of computers are needed, such as a mobile command center.

The final Build-a-Blade product cut IntelliWeather's $3,000 power bill down to less than $1,000. The stack of nine 2U servers that consumed 18U of rack space and 1080W now takes 6U and sips a mere 198W. With so much less power and heat waste, as well as an optimized 454 CFM airflow system, Build-a-Blade is also substantially quieter than the prior systems, which is valuable in smaller businesses where people spend all day working near their servers.

ITWorks now offers Build-a-Blade in configurations ranging from  a starter DIY enclosure with one or more blades, to a fully configured system with nine blades. Common management tools based on IPMI or Intel's AMT are readily available and fully compatible with any installed Thin/Mini-ITX motherboards supporting those features. Build-a-Blade also recently launched a 4U eight blade system, using the new Thin Mini-ITX form factor. Depending on the configuration, some of these blades have a total power dissipation of less than 15 watts each.

The first PC "clones" appeared in 1982, and they signaled the end of IBM's proprietary grip on the PC market. Build-a-Blade will do the same for the blade market, helping to bring costs down, promote radical energy savings, and give customers much better return on their investment because they'll be buying exactly what they need and reusing their hardware for many more years to come.

More Stories By Pat Meier-Johnson

Pat Meier-Johnson is a long-time contributor to the digital industry with a specialty in mobile technology. Pat produces the Connected Traveler Technology Showcase and is president of Pat Meier Associates, a PR and media production company specializing in technology and travel.

Latest Stories
Building a cross-cloud operational model can be a daunting task. Per-cloud silos are not the answer, but neither is a fully generic abstraction plane that strips out capabilities unique to a particular provider. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Chris Wolf, VP & Chief Technology Officer, Global Field & Industry at VMware, will discuss how successful organizations approach cloud operations and management, with insights into where operations should be centralized and when it’s best to decentraliz...
In the first article of this three-part series on hybrid cloud security, we discussed the Shared Responsibility Model and examined how the most common attack strategies persist, are amplified, or are mitigated as assets move from data centers to the cloud. Today, we’ll look at some of the unique security challenges that are introduced by public cloud environments. While cloud computing delivers many operational, cost-saving and security benefits, it takes place in a public, shared and on-demand ...
In his session at @ThingsExpo, Sudarshan Krishnamurthi, a Senior Manager, Business Strategy, at Cisco Systems, will discuss how IT and operational technology (OT) work together, as opposed to being in separate siloes as once was traditional. Attendees will learn how to fully leverage the power of IoT in their organization by bringing the two sides together and bridging the communication gap. He will also look at what good leadership must entail in order to accomplish this, and how IT managers ca...
In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Mike Johnston, an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io, will discuss how to use Kubernetes to setup a SaaS infrastructure for your business. Mike Johnston is an infrastructure engineer at Supergiant.io with over 12 years of experience designing, deploying, and maintaining server and workstation infrastructure at all scales. He has experience with brick and mortar data centers as well as cloud providers like Digital Ocean, Amazon Web Services, and Rackspace....
The financial services market is one of the most data-driven industries in the world, yet it’s bogged down by legacy CPU technologies that simply can’t keep up with the task of querying and visualizing billions of records. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Jared Parker, Director of Financial Services at Kinetica, will discuss how the advent of advanced in-database analytics on the GPU makes it possible to run sophisticated data science workloads on the same database that is housing the rich inf...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From ...
Providing the needed data for application development and testing is a huge headache for most organizations. The problems are often the same across companies - speed, quality, cost, and control. Provisioning data can take days or weeks, every time a refresh is required. Using dummy data leads to quality problems. Creating physical copies of large data sets and sending them to distributed teams of developers eats up expensive storage and bandwidth resources. And, all of these copies proliferating...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Cloud Academy will exhibit at SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Cloud Academy is the industry’s most innovative, vendor-neutral cloud technology training platform. Cloud Academy provides continuous learning solutions for individuals and enterprise teams for Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform, and the most popular cloud computing technologies. Ge...
The best way to leverage your Cloud Expo presence as a sponsor and exhibitor is to plan your news announcements around our events. The press covering Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo will have access to these releases and will amplify your news announcements. More than two dozen Cloud companies either set deals at our shows or have announced their mergers and acquisitions at Cloud Expo. Product announcements during our show provide your company with the most reach through our targeted audiences.
Column Technologies exhibited at SYS-CON's @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo, which took place at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, in June 2016. Established in 1998, Column Technologies is a global technology solutions provider with over 400 employees, headquartered in the United States with offices in Canada, India, and the United Kingdom. Column Technologies provides “Best of Breed” technology solutions that automate the key DevOps principals and help our customers meet today’s DevOps and Dig...
Wooed by the promise of faster innovation, lower TCO, and greater agility, businesses of every shape and size have embraced the cloud at every layer of the IT stack – from apps to file sharing to infrastructure. The typical organization currently uses more than a dozen sanctioned cloud apps and will shift more than half of all workloads to the cloud by 2018. Such cloud investments have delivered measurable benefits. But they’ve also resulted in some unintended side-effects: complexity and risk. ...
20th Cloud Expo, taking place June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. Cloud computing is now being embraced by a majority of enterprises of all sizes. Yesterday's debate about public vs. private has transformed into the reality of hybrid cloud: a recent survey shows that 74% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy.
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Andi Mann and Aruna Ravichandran have been named Co-Chairs of @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo 2017. The @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo Silicon Valley will take place Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outlyer, a monitoring service for DevOps and operations teams, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Outlyer is a monitoring service for DevOps and Operations teams running Cloud, SaaS, Microservices and IoT deployments. Designed for today's dynamic environments that need beyond cloud-scale monitoring, we make monitoring effortless so you...
With major technology companies and startups seriously embracing Cloud strategies, now is the perfect time to attend @CloudExpo | @ThingsExpo, June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY and October 31 - November 2, 2017, Santa Clara Convention Center, CA. Learn what is going on, contribute to the discussions, and ensure that your enterprise is on the right path to Digital Transformation.