Stackable Server Vendors Think Thin

About 15 years ago, a book called Thin Thighs in Thirty Days was a best seller, with legions of readers plunking down 10 bucks or so to find out how to streamline their bodies. Today, someone could write a book for harried Web site developers called Thin Servers in Thirty Days and probably make a fortune as well.

After all, what could be better for site developers who are elbow deep in multiple server products and who are fighting the twin terrors of space constraints and economies of scale? Taking a 250-server network and consolidating it to the equivalent of 30 or 40 servers might be at the top of the list of every Web site manager facing the same concerns. With the efforts of Web server platform vendors like Network Engines Inc. (www.networkengines.com), network managers can thin out their server operation like never before.

The high-density network device developer just released XEngine, a customizable, Linux-based, scalable Internet thin server geared toward high-end Web developers. The XEngine product squares nicely with Network Engine's 9-month-old WebEngine product built along the same thin lines. Released last August, the WebEngine enterprise-class Web server proved immediately popular with Windows NT managers looking to support large Web-hosting facilities, large enterprise sites and electronic-commerce sites. Coming out of the box with Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Information Server (IIS) software and the customer's choice of single or dual Pentium processors, WebEngine could scale up to 256 servers in a single cluster to handle the most gargantuan of Web sites.

XEngine offers many of the same benefits, only in a Unix package. Like WebEngine, XEngine is geared toward the high-scale Web environments. Also like WebEngine, the product comes complete with automated load balancing and management capabilities. XEngine allows customers to load Linux-compatible Web servers, audio and video streaming and e-commerce applications without having to add in load balancing and management monitoring functionality. The XEngine package also includes a self-diagnostic tool that ensures minimal system downtime.

Company officials say both products are intended to simplify the work of busy Web site managers, particularly those at large sites. "The purpose of both products is to help with Internet content servers," explains Bill Elliot, director of marketing at Network Engines. "Our view is that the enterprise-class, large internet server providers are running their own Web sites using general purpose servers, adding things like load balancing and content replication software as they go. But managers at sites with 20 to more than 1,000 servers don't have the time or the budget to do that. People who take general purpose servers and add on to them are spending plenty of both."

The price range for the two products is between $5,000 and $15,000, with most purchases being about $7,500. "WebEngine is already shipping," Elliot says. "And we'll be shipping XEngine this July."

While Network Engines has made inroads in the thin stackable server marketplace, they are not alone. Cubix Corp. (www.cubix.com) also produces a thin server family. Its Density Series is a high-availability rack-mountable server platform for mission-critical services, featuring a modular design for top service and a capacity to consolidate 300 servers into about 35.

Cubix's Density Series servers can be controlled with one monitor, keyboard and mouse through electronic switching technology, reducing the need for dedicated peripheral devices. Density Series also features a mixed floppy drive and a switched CD-ROM drive that can be assigned to individual servers with the push of a button, says Jim Zakzeski, vice president of marketing and sales at Cubix.