Power Supplies Should Give Dell Food for ThoughtBy Eric Lundquist | Posted 2007-03-02 Email Print
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Opinion: If Michael Dell wants to distinguish his company's servers from those of rivals, he should take a closer look at power consumption.
Michael Dell has promised a wide-ranging, top-to-bottom housecleaning and restructuring to get his namesake company back on track. That is all well and good, but maybe he should share a plate of ribs in Austin with a company that, by putting some smarts in power supplies, could help Dell and help the tech industry as well.
Dell's numbers (the company, not the Texan) came out recently and they showed how far the mighty have fallen. Fourth-quarter profit fell to $673 million, down from the $1 billion it reported for the comparable quarter a year ago. Sales slumped to $14.4 billion from last year's fourth quarter of $15.2 billion. The company, for the first time, shipped more computers outside the United States than inside, the company is in the throes of an SEC investigation that might result in delisting, Kevin Rollins is no longer Michael Dell's sidekick, and a grumpy Michael withheld $184 million in employee bonus money. That's enough grief to make any CEO think about slipping out early for a couple of Lone Star beers and ribs at Artz Rib House on South Lamar.
Maybe Michael should share a plate of the Country Style ribs with Dan Artusi, the chairman and CEO of ColdWatt. I spoke with Dan on the phone recently and I liked what he had to say about power supplies.
Power supplies for years have been the Rodney Dangerfield of computer systems design. Mentioning design and power supplies in the same breath was almost a joke. Power supplies have largely remained analog-based products that convert incoming AC current to DC current via brute force. The process is hugely inefficient, produces more heat than power (if you put your coffee cup on your in-line power converter for your laptop, you'll keep your coffee warm) and was largely farmed out to Asian suppliers by computer vendors seeking the cheapest solution.
The relation between power supplies and computer vendors is a classic case of the shoemaker's children going barefoot. On one hand you had computer vendors championing the use of computers to increase efficiency in your business. On the other hand, somewhere around 50 percent of the electricity initially created to run those servers is lost through heat, inefficient conversion orthe most absurd of allin running air conditioners to cool the heat that shouldn't have been created in the first place.
Anyway, Artusi (whose roots stretch back to Motorola power semiconductors) is using a combination of patents developed by Rockwell under a Navy contract and modern design to take power supplies into the digital age. "Timing is everything," Artusi told me as he related how several years ago, no one seemed to care about power consumption, but now in an era of increasing electricity costs, denser server placement and an awareness of the need for green computing, information about his company is much in demand. He estimates that "59 percent of the power generated is now lost before it hits the processor." CIOs looking at server rooms where they are unable to populate more than three-quarters of their racks before heat issues stop them in their tracks, are asking why vendors aren't helping them find a cooler solution.
The first vendors that will be using the ColdWatt solution tend to be smaller companies. Taiwan-based Supermicro has signed on, as has Intel for its white box computers it sells to the channel. If Michael Dell is looking for a way to distinguish his servers from those of HP, IBM, et al., maybe he should take a break from housecleaning and take the drive from Round Rock to Austin for lunch.
eWEEK Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at email@example.com.
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