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Tuesday, March 06, 2018
Intel Has Made a Server as Easy to Upgrade as a Light Bulb

Shesha Krishnapura, Intel Fellow and IT chief technical officer, has found a novel way to save money and reduce waste by creating a modular server design that allows critical components to be upgraded easily.

Staying on top of Intel's growing demand for data center power and high-performance tools while carefully minding costs is the challenge Shesha and his team face. They've responded by building one of the most energy-efficient data centers on the planet in the shell of an old Santa Clara microprocessor factory. It is cooled only by fans, passive radiators and recirculating grey water - with space for future growth. But frequent server upgrades had an unfortunate side effect, as Shesha saw it: "All these perfectly good power supplies, fans, cables, chassis and drives are sent to recycling. It's really painful." Though hardware design is not a typical service offered by an IT shop, Shesha had an idea: make upgrading a server more like replacing a light bulb.

The industry-common "blade" server design helps reduce some of that upgrade waste, allowing the processor, memory and storage to be replaced independently from longer-life components. Shesha wanted to take that modularity another big step: split the motherboard in two and separate the processor and memory from the much slower-evolving input-output parts. He whiteboarded the design, earned support among Intel technical leaders and connected with a manufacturer. From the first meeting to actually installing the first machines in the data center took a mere 5 weeks - and the reorganized motherboard added only $8 to the cost.

As a result of all this, Shesha estimates that a $10 million server upgrade would now cost only $5.6 million - 44 percent less - and save 77 percent in technician time versus a full "rip and replace" upgrade.

Shesha's project team earned the Intel Achievement Award, the company's highest honor, for bringing the disaggregated server to life.

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