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Server maker plans superslim Opteron

Appro International says its forthcoming HyperBlade server will pack 80 computers using AMD's new Opteron server processors in a single six-foot rack.

Appro International, a small Silicon Valley company, is touting its plans to sell a superslim server using AMD's new Opteron server processor.

The Milpitas, Calif.-based company is a minor player in the server market, but it's one of several trying to profit from the rush to sell "cluster" computing systems good for mammoth calculations like searching for useful information in DNA data. To bolster its push, Appro said Thursday that it will begin selling the new system in May, shortly after the 64-bit processor's official debut on April 22.

Appro's system, with 80 dual-Opteron computers in a single six-foot rack, will cost between $160,000 and $320,000, depending on configuration, the company said. The system will run 32-bit versions of Linux and a future 64-bit version tailored for the Opteron processor.

Although the product is called the HyperBlade, the system more resembles a rack packed with traditional servers than it does blade products from companies such as IBM, Dell Computer, Sun Microsystems and Hewlett-Packard. Those companies' blade systems are slim servers that plug into a communications backbone and share common hardware such as power supplies and external network connections.

For some of its servers, Appro uses electronics boards built by Austin, Texas-based start-up Newisys, Appro spokeswoman Maria McLaughlin said. Newisys specializes in AMD-based server hardware that it sells to other companies for their own server products. Though Appro plans to use Newisys hardware in the HyperBlade product later this year, the first designs don't, Appro spokeswoman Maria McLaughlin said.

Newisys' biggest customers include RackSaver, Angstrom Microsystems and Microway, said Jack Steeg, Newisys' senior vice president of sales and marketing. All those companies sell systems geared for clusters of Linux machines joined together for technical computing tasks such as aerodynamics calculations or digital imagery creation.

Appro competes not only with mainstream companies such as IBM, Dell and HP, but also with new entrant Apple Computer and specialists such as Linux Networx, which sells a rack with as many as 50 two-processor computers.

Appro customers include Tippet Studios and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.