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9/1/2006
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Smaller Server Vendors Tout New Designs

Vendors including Open Source Systems, Ciara, and VXTech are working on servers that pack big power in small spaces.

Patrick Scateni, vice president of VXTech, said the Nexxus 4000 offers the kind of number-crunching capabilities exclusive to high-performance computing research labs, which have larger budgets and can cluster hundreds of cheap computers together to harness compute power. "Smaller companies can afford this in terms of financial investment and space," he said.

For example, large financial institutions such as Merrill Lynch regularly run risk management simulations on powerful high-performance computing clusters, Scateni said. With the Nexxus 4000, smaller firms now have the same options. "These companies don't have huge data centers. We have high density but smaller constraints," he said. If necessary, the Nexxus 4000 can sit at the side of a desk.

Scateni said the single-socket Caretta motherboards are useful for some applications, which seem to scale up better with one CPU—for example, modeling and mechanical software.

A Nexxus 4000 configured with eight dual-core processors on the Caretta motherboards and 32 Gbytes of memory starts at about $10,000. The Xeon version, also with eight processors, starts at about $14,000.

VXTech sells its products direct to customers, but Scateni said Ciara is developing a channel program for the VAR community.

These are the kinds of systems that you won't see from the top-tier OEMs. Though all have been working on power and cooling—Sun Microsystems released an eight-socket server this year—they are shying away from the ultra high-density offerings.

In a recent interview, Pradeep Parmar, Sun's x64 product line business manager, said customers wanting high density are looking at Sun's four-socket blade offerings. Those blades fit into Sun's chassis that spans nearly one-half of a rack.

Meanwhile, Paul Miller, HP's vice president for industry standard servers and blade systems, said the company doesn't have plans to release ultra-high-density servers anytime soon. "We are looking at it," he said. "We have some models and are talking to customers. But it's not a sweet spot in the marketplace."

Restricted I/O capabilities in small form factors and other technology concerns limit the models' relevance among mainstream customers. "In five years, maybe we will have something," he said. "This year does it make sense? Absolutely not."

Still, research data from Gartner suggests high-density models from companies such as Rackable Systems are seeing traction among data center customers. Jeffrey Hewitt, an analyst at Gartner, said in the second quarter, Rackable's server market share grew 79.2 percent in revenue and 76 percent in shipments from the year-earlier quarter.

Rackable, Milpitas, Calif., recently told CRN it is experiencing 100 percent growth year over year. Among its offerings are high-density, half-size servers that slip back to back into a rack.

The U.S. server market as a whole was up 5.5 percent in revenue and 15.9 percent in unit shipments in the same period, according to Gartner. Much of that growth is being driven by increased demand for Web servers and the continued proliferation of x86-based clusters, Hewitt said.

The Gartner data also highlights the development of smaller companies. Custom system builders and second-tier OEMs listed in the "other" category grew by 17.5 percent in revenue and 23.8 percent in shipments.

Another second-tier vendor riding this wave of growth is SuperMicro Computer, San Jose, Calif. It already offers half-size servers using low-voltage Intel processors. Last month it also released the 6500x series, a 1U server that can squeeze four PCI Express or PCI-X add-on cards, a IPMI management card and up to 32 Gbytes of memory into a 1U form factor.

In effect, said Tau Leng, director of marketing at SuperMicro, the new server condenses the features of a 2U server down to the space of a 1U server.

System builder and distributor AMAX, Fremont, Calif., also is working on small servers. AMAX is developing 1U servers that are 16 inches to 17 inches deep. Both servers will support Opteron or Xeon Woodcrest CPUs. They are aimed at customers that have limited space and server appliances, such as Web servers and mail servers. AMAX still is finalizing the thermal configuration and will release the servers to the market in the next month or so, said James Huang, AMAX's marketing specialist.

AMAX, like many other system builders, is finding it can do more with less when it comes to differentiating its servers from the top-tier fare.

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