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It’s all about power.

Come to me son of Jor-El, kneel before Zod!

We crave power.

All of us do, at least a little. It’s just as a web host, we crave power a lot.

Not just the kind of power that allows us to crush our enemies, to see them driven before us, and to hear the lamentation of their women, either. We’re also talking about that other kind of power.

The power that runs servers!!

Now that’s the kind of power that really gets our juices flowing. You see, when you run a web hosting operation as SUPREMELY AWESOME as ours, you need a lot of computers. And, as any of you who’ve ever worked on a help desk will know, for computers to be really awesome, try plugging them in.

Which is why we try to keep all our servers plugged in all the time.

Unfortunately, this uses a lot of power. In fact, each rack of servers we have uses about the same amount of power per month as an average American home. Which means our data center draws about the same amount of power as a small suburban subdivision. It costs a lot to power a whole suburb subdivision for a month.

And it costs us even more!

Our power costs even more than yours because it’s “good” power. That is, it’s backed up by huge diesel generators and UPS batteries in the supremely unlike event of say, a Los Angeles power outage. People estimate that Google must pay about $50,000,000 a year for power for their 100,000 servers. That sounds about right to us!

Data centers generally charge you $X per square foot and $Y per amp of power you need. In the last few years, the whole industry has realized that servers are packing a lot more power per square inch. They are not however packing a lot more power per amp.

So, as clever web hosts such as us packed more and more processing power in a rack, clever data center owners dropped the price they charged per square foot and raised the price they charged per amp! When it comes to data center space, what you’re really paying for above all else is the power.

At this point, our servers are about twice as dense as they can be, physically. It doesn’t matter though, because the physical space they use up is becoming a less and less significant part of the cost equation.

It's not a tumor!

What we really need is a better CPU to power ratio.

Fortunately, help is on the way!

We finally tested some new dual-core AMD opterons which draw about HALF the power of the Intel Xeons we were using. The most surprising thing was, the AMDs not only used 1/2 the power, they were 30% faster too! And for only about $100 more per server!

We might have bought our last Xeon for a while..

Don’t count Intel out though, it looks like they’re going to be pushing into the low-power CPU market pretty heavily in the near future as well. And although they say the chips are for laptops and home media devices, I doubt they’ll be turning away any server orders.


Which is worse, running out of space or running out of power?

Last year (sigh, it seems like only yesterday or the day before that or the day before that), for around six months, our data center effectively ran out of power. They ran out of the “good stuff” at least. We had fortunately bought a fair amount in advance that we weren’t using yet, but until relatively recently we had to extremely curtail our deployment of new servers because there just wasn’t anything to plug them in to!

Now, if we’d run out of space somehow, it wouldn’t have been so bad. We still have a bunch of older servers that are about twice the size of our new servers, and although it would have been somewhat of a waste of money, we could have retired them a bit early.

But that wouldn’t have done us a lick of good in regards to saving power, because (until these new AMD chips), the new servers still had about the same amps/cpu ratio as the old server. Size/cpu was way down, but amps/cpu, same-o same-o.

First you get the money, then you get the power. Then you get the women.

I’d like to close by saying that we are the Tony Montana of web hosting.

Except we just stop at the power.

About the author

Josh Jones