Google server hardware revealed

April 3rd, 2009 No comments

CNET reports on Google revealing its once-secret server design at a data center efficiency summit held this week at Google HQ in Mountain View. The intriguing difference is that they have a backup battery on each 2U server unit and 12-volt-only power supplies that force additional voltage conversion to take place on the motherboard.

That adds $1 or $2 to the cost of the motherboard, but it’s worth it not just because the power supply is cheaper, but because the power supply can be run closer to its peak capacity, which means it runs much more efficiently. Google even pays attention to the greater efficiency of transmitting power over copper wires at 12 volts compared to 5 volts.

Google began publicly advocating for simpler, standardized 12-volt power supplies back in September 2006 when data center engineers Urs Hoelze and Bill Wiehl published a white paper on the topic titled High-efficiency power supplies for home computers and servers.

Why then do power supplies continue to be built to produce multiple voltages? The answer is simple: because the standard never changed, and because the actual
voltage needs of many chips in a computer change every year as they become more energy efficient themselves.  But the changing voltage needs of chips are now met
by voltage regulator modules (VRMs) that computer manufacturers put on their motherboards. These VRMs take one of these voltages (say, 5V) and transform
them down to the actual voltage needed (say, 1.7V) making multiple voltage output capability of power supplies unnecessary.

The battery on the motherboard acts as a distributed, on-board UPS and is there to keep the server running during power sags or for the several minutes it takes backup power generators to come online after a power blackout. Velcro is used to fasten components that are likely to fail most often like the SATA hard disk drives.

1,160 of these servers are then crammed into a standard freight shipping container making for an inexpensive, modular approach to managing air flow and data center expansion.

Google managed to keep many of these details secret since 2005, an Apple-under-Steve-Jobs level of discipline. Google Japan employees I’ve spoken to refuse to divulge where Google’s Japanese data center is, or even acknowledge that there is one on the islands at all.

The full presentation will be posted to YouTube shortly. In the meantime, here is an attendee’s shaky video of a portion of Google’s presentation, including exterior and interior shots of a very spartan data center, an employee riding a kick scooter to get to a service point, etc.

This presentation represents the latest public move by Google to convince the IT and consumer electronics industries to standardize on DC power components. As Lee Felsenstein pointed out in a 2006 New York Times article about Google’s 12-volt DC power supply simplification proposal,

“I imagine a standard low-voltage distribution system inside buildings having alternate energy supplies like solar,” said Lee Felsenstein, the designer of the Osborne 1 and Sol personal computers. “Google’s proposal would make that a practicality.”

…and Larry Page exhorting vendors at CES 2006 to standardize on AC adapters:

Another example : these are the power adapters just lying around our office. I’m sure most of you have things like this under your desk too. It’s a real hazard. You could electrocute yourself – if one in a million adapters catches fire and you have a thousand adapters, it starts to be an issue. And it’s also a big hassle for the manufacturers because every one of those devices now has this thing that’s in the box that’s specific to a country. And so they have to repackage the boxes and maintain stock for different countries. It’s just silly, and also really inefficient, because guess what? They are sort of subsidized by the devices you buy, so people try to provide the cheapest ones possible. So they all suck power.

In a rational world, these efficiency concerns along with the inevitable growth in point-of-consumption power generation over the next decade would result in a new world-wide standard for on-premises DC power, a modern denouement to the War of Currents. It’s already happening for low power devices with the proliferation of the 5v/500mA USB connector.

Categories: computer, energy

Microbes Turn Electricity Directly To Methane

April 1st, 2009 No comments

Penn State environmental engineering researchers discovered a way to utilize methanogenic archaea microbes to turn electricity directly to methane. The process is claimed to be 80% efficient and, if used to store wind and solar generated power for gas fueled power plants, could be carbon neutral if carbon dioxide exhaust is used to feed the microbes for further methane generation.

The chemical reaction from burning methane is pretty simple:

CH4 + 2(O2) →  2(H2O) + CO2 + heat

The electromethanogenesis reaction from archaea-coated biocathode electrodes reverses what happens when methane is burned:

2(H2O) + CO2 + electricity → CH4 + 2(O2)

A peer reviewed abstract dated last Wednesday is on the American Chemical Society site.

Categories: energy, environment, science

Mt. Madarao

January 1st, 2009 No comments
Categories: Uncategorized

Keeping the Gary Kildall Story Straight

December 20th, 2008 No comments

CP/M author and personal computer pioneer Gary Kildall was flying his plane to visit a customer in Oakland when IBM came visiting in 1980, and flew back in time to take part, as planned, in afternoon negotiations that fell apart because IBM was being completely unreasonable:

IBM did not want to pay royalties on each copy of the operating system that it sold. It wanted to rename the product, which would upend Digital’s marketing plan. And IBM wanted Digital to sign a nondisclosure agreement that protected IBM’s intellectual property but left Digital’s extremely vulnerable.

Cassidy: There’s more to the story of software pioneer Kildall –

Blogged with the Flock Browser
Categories: 17, computer

Alec Arrival

December 12th, 2008 No comments
Categories: Alec, Family

Stan Veit tells of his encounters with Apple in the early days

December 8th, 2008 No comments

Computer Shopper, that bulky trade magazine that seemed to be on every corner in Silicon Valley has posted an article on their first publisher, Stan Veit’s interactions with Steve Jobs in the formative years of Apple Computer.

It’s a fun read, with anecdotes ranging from sewing jeans to missing out on owning 10% of the company–a decision Mr. Veit eventually comes to not regret.

Categories: computer

Akira Yamaguchi「江戸しぐさ」”Edo Behavior” posters

December 6th, 2008 No comments
Categories: community, culture, Japan, Tokyo

December 2nd, 2008 No comments

I just found out about the web site, an online community for third culture types, started about a year ago. It looks like the best online resource yet for a growing category of people who have always struggled to maintain social networks. I signed up right away.

My LBI friend Paul Johnson’s Facebook post linking to an article by Ruth E. Van Renken on all the third culture folk in Barack Obama’s emerging administration is what led me to the tckids site.

Categories: community, culture, identity

CNET to adopt Facebook Connect signon

December 2nd, 2008 No comments

As Rafe Needleman notes in the article, sites should offer users a variety of alternatives for signing in, so a clueless Facebook user can use their Facebook sign-on, while those who care about maintaining control over their digital identity can use a self-hosted OpenID sign-on.

Sites like ours will do what they do: create content and online services, and offer users community around those services. Users’ identities are becoming untethered from the sites they use. More and more, services will be giving new visitors options for signing in to access the “registered” features of the sites.

Facebook Connect: Scary but good | Webware – CNET

Categories: identity

Morning walk with Bjorn

December 1st, 2008 No comments
Categories: Tokyo, walking