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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.

They may not have the recognizable brand of an IBM or Hewlett-Packard, but a cadre of second-tier vendors and system builders believe they can carve out a larger share of the market by developing innovative server designs that pack extra computing power into compact spaces.

The new server options include a 1U rack server that houses two full systems, 1U rack systems that can wedge in four add-in cards for specialized needs, and a "personal" cluster scaled down to a typical tower configuration.

These new models—aimed at the Web and high-performance computing markets—highlight a growing trend among system builders to couple power and cooling know-how with more efficient processors. These system builders are helping customers make the most out of their space in a data center while at the same time differentiating themselves from the typical rack servers and blades offered by top-tier vendors.

The Gemini series of servers from Open Source Systems, a San Jose, Calif.-based system builder, house two distinct two-socket systems in a 1U or 2U rack chassis. "Our competitors can't deliver two systems in 1U," said Eren Niazi, president of OSS. The company is using industry-standard parts for both models, and the units are cooled from front to back to comply with data center standards, he said.

Though customers focusing on server consolidation and some types of virtualization may lean toward larger four-socket systems, Niazi said some customers will find distinct benefits to OSS' two-system configuration. Among them are high-availability capabilities. Customers can run two mirrored servers simultaneously, and instead of having to maintain two servers in separate chassis, each coexists together in one unit.

Niazi said OSS also is recommending the systems to customers that want to run two different operating systems on one system. The Gemini systems will support any combination of Linux, Solaris and Windows.

OSS will ship both systems in September. The 2U model, in which the motherboards are stacked vertically, will ship first, followed by the 1U model in which the motherboards are placed front to back. OSS said the units support Xeon and Opteron processors and include 16 DIMM slots for up to 64 Gbytes of memory. In addition, the 2U version will support up to 12 hot-swappable drives.

Even Intel is getting into the act. The Santa Clara, Calif., company midyear rolled out the SE7230CA1-E, better known by code name Caretta. The 6-inch by 13-inch, single-socket server board accepts a Pentium 4, dual-core Pentium D or dual-core Pentium Extreme. Intel has plans to update that with more current processors—most likely versions of Intel's Core 2 Duo—at its fall developer conference in September.

In a recent interview with CRN, Pat Gelsinger, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Digital Enterprise Group, said he was caught by surprise when Intel staffers first pitched the idea of the small server boards. "I sort of went, 'What? Why would the market be interested in this?' " he said.

But as Gelsinger soon learned, for some specific applications, customers now are starting to worry about things such as Ethernet bandwidth per node and memory per node. With Intel's new motherboards, customers can create one-node systems but slide two of them in a space originally reserved for one. "Essentially, these are half-size motherboards, so in the same rack space, you can put two," Gelsinger said. "The result is you can sort of mix and match the memory size as well as I/O bandwidth in the same rack density. It seems to be a pretty intriguing trend."

One system builder taking advantage of the motherboard is Ciara Technologies, Montreal. It developed the Nexxus 4000 Personal Cluster using the board. The Nexxus 4000 was developed through Ciara's VXTech division, which engineers new systems and also functions as a systems integrator.

The Nexxus 4000 houses four distinct systems in a tower chassis. It originally was developed using Intel's Caretta motherboard, but in July, Ciara also added dual-socket motherboards that use Intel's new Xeon Woodcrest processors. The design stacks two Caretta single-processor motherboards together on one blade, while the Xeon version holds two processors on one motherboard. The unit supports up to eight hard drives, integrates a UPS and plugs into a standard 110/220-volt AC outlet.

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