The new 1000 series from VA crams two Intel processors into a server 1.75 inches thick. The actual machine is manufactured by Network Engines. Of the major server companies only IBM has a similar product--its "Intimidator" computer, also licensed from Network Engines.
These slim servers are in demand from Internet service providers (ISPs) and so-called application service providers (ASPs), companies that house Web sites and complex software for their customers. The types of jobs that run at these outfits typically require many moderately powerful computers and a few very powerful machines.
The operative word for these customers is "density." Because Linux is relatively reliable and can be obtained more cheaply than competing operating systems, analysts and manufacturers view Linux as a good fit for the market segment.
VA, while generally regarded as the leading company focused on Linux computers, faces a long-term challenge as the major computer manufacturers begin placing more emphasis on their Linux models. VA argues that it will prosper because it offers expertise that the traditional computer makers can't match. VA is a notch ahead of most competitors in offering a system that can fit two processors in a server 1.75 inches thick, a measurement known as "1U" among those who bolt servers to racks by the dozens.
Compaq is preparing a 1.75-inch, two-processor server called "Photon" due in May or June. For high density, Hewlett-Packard offers its 3.5-inch, two processor Netserver LPr, and Dell sells a similarly sized PowerEdge 2450 model.
Among Linux-specific companies, Penguin Computing offers 1.75-inch servers with one processor, and Atipa offers a 3.5-inch, two-processor server. Network Engines, though not purely a Linux company, sells its two-processor, 1.75-inch server as well as providing the design to IBM.
Not everyone likes servers this thin. It limits many high-availability features, such as the ability to swap out bad power supplies without taking the machine offline, and it makes it impossible to fit in more than a few expansion cards. Dell in particular argues that the customers building data centers with hundreds or thousands of these slim servers are going to be the very customers who need high-availability features.
It can be difficult to swap out malfunctioning power supplies or cooling fans on slim servers because of the limited real estate on the front panel, already cluttered with blinking lights and other displays, a CD-ROM and floppy drives and air intake vents. The front panel is useful for parts swapping because the back panel often is hidden behind power and network cables.
Low-end configurations of the VA 1000 server cost less than $3,000. It supports Pentium III chips, up to 1 GB of error-correcting memory and two hard disks. Ethernet is built onto the motherboard.