Technology Crossover Ahead

The connection between mobile devices and data centers is growing stronger, and so are the opportunities for energy-efficient design.

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The attention showered upon NVM Express these days by both Synopsys (verification IP) and Cadence (subsystem) is significant. It’s the first significant opening in the enterprise computing space to emerge in years, and this is a market in which efficiency and performance are both measured and fully recognized.

While SoC developers in the mobile space continue to develop power-management capabilities, the reality is many of them either are ignored or underutilized by the system makers. Whether a battery lasts an extra hour often is less important than getting a functioning product to market on time and on budget.

In the enterprise space, better energy efficiency can mean millions of dollars in electricity costs each year, both for powering big iron and for cooling it. That means companies are willing to pay for technology that will reduce costs. They’re also willing to pay for the tools to design and cool data centers, which is partly why Mentor Graphics’ thermal modeling software has done so well.

But what’s equally good from a design and development standpoint is that enterprise buyers are methodical and cautious. The cost of getting something wrong and having server or storage outages can impact a corporation’s quarterly earnings, its stock price, and even its competitive standing in a market. That means they’ll wait for new technology even if it takes a few extra months, and they’ll fund the research.

The big technology investment is still in the mobile area. Billions of devices, even with lower margins, are a bigger market than one with thousands of devices with higher margins. But as data moves from mobile to server and back again, there is an interesting crossover because everything has to work together. That means some of the power management techniques developed in the mobile world will find their way into the enterprise. And some of the techniques developed in the enterprise—virtualization, multiprocessing, and security—will find their way into the mobile arena.

Specializing in one or the other will no longer an option, and we are witnessing the first pieces of that shift. What will be interesting to watch is just how closely these two worlds converge, and what happens when they really do come together.