Among the reasons for this negative turn is the growing cost of energy and the power required to cool the increasing density of computer hardware in the data center. Hewlett-Packard engineering research estimates that for every dollar of IT spent, a company can expect to spend the same or more to power and cool it. As companies add more performance, they can expect those costs to continue to rise.
The problem is being attacked by a wide range of interests. They include chip and server makers, engineers working on new fans and cooling mechanisms, and software developers in areas such as virtualization designed to increase server utilization.
''There is really no magic bullet. It's something customers are attacking at multiple levels,'' said John Humphreys, research manager, enterprise computing at IDC. Humphreys spoke at an HP-sponsored media briefing in San Francisco.
HP plans to roll out what it calls its next-generation adaptive infrastructure later this summer. The idea is to make power and cooling management part of HP's unified OpenView management system, which gives IT managers a single console view of operations.
Part of HP's roll out will include new energy efficient technologies. One example is an electric ducted fan inspired by those used in some remote-controlled airplanes.
The so-called ''Active Cool'' fan is designed to provide more efficient air flow and adjust to the changing needs of the datacenter (e.g. spin faster as more server blades are added). It's also quieter than traditional fans. HP said it has some 20 patents pending on the technology.
The Active Cool fan is one of a portfolio of technologies in what HP said is its holistic approach to the data center.
Competitor Sun Microsystems isn't impressed.
''Fan cooling technologies from HP and IBM are nothing but smoke and mirrors,'' said Fadi Azhari, director of outbound marketing at Sun, in an e-mail sent to internetnews.com.
''They require customers to incur significant overhead in their data centers to accommodate what is essentially a band-aid approach to solving the very real and important problems of rising power/cooling/space costs in the datacenter,'' he wrote. ''The root of their problems, unfortunately, lie in their chips.''
But Chandrakant Patel, distinguished technologist at HP Labs, said the processor is only a part of the energy challenge.
''When all you are looking at is the processor, it makes sense to talk about cores and the advantages of multi-threading like Sun likes to do,'' says Patel. ''We're looking at the big picture. I love it when Sun talks about this stuff because it brings the focus on energy efficiency, where we have a lot to offer.''