Comparing Server Energy Use and Efficiency Using Small Sample Sizes

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This report documents a demonstration that compared the energy consumption and efficiency of a limited sample size of server-type IT equipment from different manufacturers by measuring power at the server power supply power cords. The results are specific to the equipment and methods used. However, it is hoped that those responsible for IT equipment selection can used the methods described to choose models that optimize energy use efficiency.
The demonstration was conducted in a data center at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California. It was performed with five servers of similar mechanical and electronic specifications; three from Intel and one each from Dell and Supermicro.
Server IT equipment is constructed using commodity components, server manufacturer-designed assemblies, and control systems. Server compute efficiency is constrained by the commodity component specifications and integration requirements. The design freedom, outside of the commodity component constraints, provides room for the manufacturer to offer a product with competitive efficiency that meets market needs at a compelling price.
A goal of the demonstration was to compare and quantify the server efficiency for three different brands. The efficiency is defined as the average compute rate (computations per unit of time) divided by the average energy consumption rate. The research team used an industry standard benchmark software package to provide a repeatable software load to obtain the compute rate and provide a variety of power consumption levels. Energy use when the servers were in an idle state (not providing computing work) were also measured.
At high server compute loads, all brands, using the same key components (processors and memory), had similar results; therefore, from these results, it could not be concluded that one brand is more efficient than the other brands. The test results show that the power consumption variability caused by the key components as a group is similar to all other components as a group. However, some differences were observed. The Supermicro server used 27 percent more power at idle compared to the other brands. The Intel server had a power supply control feature called cold redundancy, and the data suggest that cold redundancy can provide energy savings at low power levels.
Test and evaluation methods that might be used by others having limited resources for IT equipment evaluation are explained in the report.

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