Dense Is Smart when It Comes to New Thin Servers

Theseservers aren’t merely thin, at a mere 1.75 inches, they are the CalistaFlockharts of the rack-mount universe. And they give companies something moreprecious than gold: They give them densification.

They arethe 1U generation. And their number is growing.

Densificationis described by Jonathan Eunice, analyst at Illuminata, as “trying to get asmuch server capacity into as small a space as possible. Space is veryexpensive. We’re talking downtown-Tokyo expensive.”

Eunicebelieves this densification is a significant trend, even in larger boxes.“Denser server [configurations] is absolutely taking off everywhere. A lot oftimes what you see is not 1U, but you do see a lot of 2U and 3U. Not everyserver going in needs to be 1U, but every server going in needs to be verydense.”

And denseservers are what companies are buying. Concrete figures are still hard to comeby, but Pushan Rinnen, senior analyst at GartnerGroup, says the 1U field is“definitely expanding.”

ThomasManter, research director, Windows NT/2000 platforms, at Aberdeen Group,expects the trend to continue. “Based on my discussions with ASPs (applicationservice providers) and other SP firms, I would expect to see the1U market growvery aggressively over the next few years. Probably 50 percent over that time.”

Most of the1Us right now are being used in front-end Web servers and low-end cachingservers, Rinnen says. Higher-end cache servers don’t work as well with 1Ubecause of greater storage and disk needs, she explains.

Thecustomers most often buying them are Internet service providers (ISPs), and thereare several reasons for this, Rinnen says. “Typically, companies want toprovide dedicated Web hosting as opposed to shared hosting. The products [1Uappliances] are not expensive, and they give clients the satisfaction ofgetting a dedicated server for their site. [ISPs can also] isolate singlepoints of failure, so if one machine is down, it only affects one site.” Thathas the significant benefit of minimizing downtime and troubleshootingexpenses.

Many ISPsthat are adopting 1Us are small start-ups that don’t have a lot of physicalroom -- which leads back to the importance of big power in a little box.“Servers are often not going into a data center as much as into a telcocloset,” Eunice says. “They often have a very, very small space to work in, soyou need to put as much into a rack as possible. Densification is the trend,and 1U is a milestone.”

The latestplayer in the 1U server market is IBM, which recently announced its x330 lineof servers. The servers are the first to use the 1-GHz Pentium III processor.Each unit can have up to two processors, so a typical rack filled withtwo-processor x330s would yield a very dense total processing power of 84 GHz.

The x330sare “great boxes,” Eunice says. “The challenge for the 1U form factor is notcan you get to 1U, but can you get there with quality and reliability.” Hebelieves IBM has. Big Blue has seen a resurgence of its server brand, andEunice said “the 1U is part of that.”

One x330feature that excites Eunice is its new cable chaining technology (C2T), whichdaisy-chains each server to the next with only one short cable.

IBMspokesman John Simonds says the cabling system eliminates “70 percent of theconnections, 282 connections [in all] -- all those points of failure. This is asimple design that eliminates 80 meters of cabling and the KVM (keyboard,video, mouse) switches that go with it, so we have more space for cooling.”

IBM’slatest hardware offering further crowds the server appliance market. CobaltNetworks and Network Engines are two of the pioneers in the 1U space, butseveral of the largest computer makers such as Dell and Compaq have now joinedthe fray.

These 1Uservers are quite a feat, but are they merely a pause on the way to eventhinner servers? Aberdeen Group’s Manter says probably not, at least for awhile. “I think traditionally, the challenge with making these systems evenmore dense has been the PCI slots. [Thin server makers] had to be very creativein limiting the slots to get them down to size. In a couple of years, InfiniBandwill offload the I/O slots, so we won’t need PCI slots in these units, and wewon’t have to design and build them to have room for slots.”

Eunice,however, doesn’t think it will take that long. “We don’t think 1U is thestopping point. You’ll see sub-U form factors over the next couple of years. Itwon’t take too long for sub-U boxes to come into use.”

IBM Corp., Armonk, N.Y.,

IlluminataInc., Nashua, N.H.,

GartnerGroupInc., Stamford, Conn.,

AberdeenGroup Inc., Boston,