Could Atom-based clusters put a dent in the server market?

— 10:34 AM on June 15, 2010

You may be skeptical upon reading the headline above, but have a look at this story at VentureBeat about a start-up named SeaMicro. The firm has developed a server product that takes up one quarter of a traditional data-center rack and uses 512 Intel Atom chips for processing. By packing in power-efficient CPUs, SeaMicro aims to match Xeon- and Opteron-based servers while using less power and occupying less space.

The key to making it all work is SeaMicro's special sauce, which reportedly is a combination of virtualization software and a series of custom chips that provide the customary I/O functions—storage, networking, managemenet—but do so through virutalized I/O that allows extensive sharing of hardware resources. How extensive? VentureBeat says, "Full told, SeaMicro eliminates 90 percent of the components from a system board. . . . With it, SeaMicro shrinks the size of the system board from a pizza box to the size of a credit card."

The SeaMicro SM10000 server. Source: MarketWire.

The article includes some power use and space estimates for a SeaMicro solution with a given SPECint_rate score alongside estimates for Dell R610 servers with similar performance. The bottom line is a claimed savings of over a million dollars during a four-year period. That's a large installation, but if the math is sound, it proves a point worthy of note. For the right kind of applications, such as virtual web hosting, something like this might make a lot of sense.

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