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HP researcher in power struggle

Posted: 17 Aug 2007     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:multicore processors  systems architectures  technology innovators 


If the battery on your next MP3 player lasts significantly longer than the one on your last player, it may be thanks to Partha Ranganathan.

The principal research scientist at Hewlett Packard Labs is on a quest to find ways to use power and multicore processors more effectively across a broad range of devices. "My job is to think about systems architectures," said Partha.

Partha spent the last seven years at HP Labs after gaining his doctorate in electrical and computer engineering at Rice University. In recognition of his promise and accomplishments to date, MIT Technology Review magazine named him to its annual list released Wednesday (Aug 15) of technology innovators under 35.

Among his many projects to date, he helped define a way to light only the pixels a user needs to see on a handheld device using an OLED or other emissive display. The approach could extend battery life on the system a whopping ten fold.

Most of Partha's efforts have been in the area of data center computing closer to HP's mainstream businesses in servers and storage arrays. He has helped define two benchmarks that could become useful in measuring a system's energy efficiency.

"One of the big problems we have is everyone knows we all want to go green but no one knows when we can declare victory," said Partha.

Joulesort provides a guideline to designers trying to optimise the energy efficiency of a system in development. It is now going through academic review to determine its usefulness beyond HP's walls. "That's a first step," he said.

Another metric, the Energy Scale-Down Efficiency measurement, aims to check power use of systems operating at the low utilisation levels typical of many of today's servers in the field. "This will be adopted faster because it is a big problem in our industry," Partha said.

An even more ambitious project in the works, called Power Struggle, aims to define an overarching scheme for coordinating power management across a broad range of systems and components.

"Today we have power management technologies at the chip, operating system, blade, system and data centre levels. One of the big challenges of the next 3-5 years is how do we put these all together. Will they all work together and be globally optimal?" he asked.

Partha and colleagues have defined a specification for a high-level framework that could manage interfaces between power management technologies to coordinate their efforts. A prototype of the framework using real-world data center information showed the potential to save 60-70 percent of typical power and 25-30 percent of capital expenses for a data center.

Partha is also engaged in research into the best uses of multicore processors. A recent paper showed the benefits of dedicating some cores to accelerating key operating system calls that do not require much context switching.

"We saw tremendous benefits in power efficiency, performance and security," he said.

Another recent paper explores the problems of how best to handle the problem of manipulating large unstructured data sets in storage for jobs such as search, finding malware or superimposing images. With other HP Labs researchers, Partha explored trade-offs of using helper cores on a CPU versus a standalone accelerator.

"We found fundamental problems in both directions," said Partha. "We have some conclusions but we aren't ready to go public with them yet," he added.

Computer science research was a natural path for Partha whose mother is a teacher and father is a math professor. He takes a practical approach to his work in areas such as power conservation.

"I am not necessarily a tree hugger. These techniques impact the bottom line, saving people money and extending the life of batteries in their systems," he said.

"One of the fun things about working at HP is it has a kind of product portfolio that really touches people's lives. The breadth across which I can operate is exciting," said Partha, adding that he enjoys collaborations with universities such as Duke, GIT and Stanford--and no doubt, MIT as well.

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