Looking Upstream

What happens in the data center is critical to the mobile market—and the effects will continue to grow.

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The majority of attention in energy efficiency is focused on consumer pain—how long a device can last between charges—but the real quantum leaps are happening further upstream these days.

This is good news for a couple of reasons. First, it provides lots of opportunity for semiconductors in a market where pricing is much more elastic. Companies are willing to pay for energy savings, which in a data center can amount to millions of dollars a year, and they have very structured amortization schedules for replacing and updating expensive equipment. Second, what is developed and perfected and adopted at the corporate level, such as the Hybrid Memory Cube, ultimately will make its way down into mobile devices when the technology is more mature, well tested, and less expensive.

This used to be the normal direction for development prior to an explosion in mobile electronics. As price pressure continues for mobile devices and the cost of development continues to rise, it will almost certainly spur a return of this development cycle—or at least a two-way flow of technology.

A look at the high end of the market, which includes mainframes, supercomputers, blade servers and even data center storage, shows a concerted push toward stacked die, faster throughput, and even liquid cooling in some places. Equally important, there is recognition that all of these devices have to work together. The new acronym pervading the CIO world these days is BYOD, which stands for bring your own device.

This opens up a couple issues for the IC design world. First and foremost is security, which is a big concern of CIOs because many of these BYO devices are used for personal as well as business purposes. One effective way of dealing with this problem is a dual-purpose device, utilizing some cores for work and others for personal use, and not making the data from each coherent. This allows a device to share some resources, to fully utilize multi-core processors, but still to keep these worlds completely separate.

Second, it puts some very big dollars behind the drive toward energy efficiency—particularly on the networking and storage side. All of these devices have to work seamlessly together, and architectures still have to be developed to make that happen more efficiently. The payback on individual devices is miniscule, but in a corporate setting it can be huge.

The merging of personal and corporate data is huge risk, but the merging of personal and corporate technology is a huge opportunity—and one from which we all stand to benefit.