Small is in, as far as servers go. Los Gatos, Calif.-based FiberCycle says its WebBunker servers, which will ship next month, will be capable of cramming 12 processors into a box measuring 3.5 inches high. A standard data center rack will be able to hold servers containing 504 processors. Current computing density tops out at 84 processors.
The push toward smaller servers is driven by design changes that reduce the heat produced by a roomful of computers or at least make it easier to vent excess heat. If left unchecked, heat can knock out or even melt servers.
"The greatest barrier to super-density is thermocooling," Jim Gargan, director of product marketing for Intel-based servers at IBM, said in a recent interview. "This is the start of a trend in the industry where servers begin to look more like stereo components."
A hot server is also one that consumes a lot of energy, and with 13 percent of all energy in the United States going toward running computer equipment, conservation is in order, according to the company.
"There is a desire to decrease the cost of ownership," said FiberCycle CEO Spero Koulouras. "Shaving rack space is the No. 1 issue."
In terms of just office floor space, maintaining a server rack costs about $900 a year, Koulouras said. He said a number of large customers are testing Fibercycle's servers.
The company originally tried to use Intel processors in its servers but switched to Transmeta because the servers could be made smaller and more energy efficient, Koulouras said.
"With an equivalent amount of power, we got four times the (data) throughput and with an equivalent amount of rack space we got five times the throughput," he said.
WebBunker will incorporate Crusoe processors from Transmeta, which were originally designed for notebook PCs and Internet appliances. Crusoe chips generally consume less power and consequently produce less heat than the average Intel processor.
Like other companies in the field, FiberCycle is adopting the "blade" server design that originated in the telecommunications industry. With a blade design, the server is a circuit board that plugs inside a larger rack. The rack also eliminates redundant cables.
By contrast, traditional servers in the PC industry come encased in their own plastic boxes and are then slid into racks.
The company also will introduce a feature called CAMP (content acceleration multiprocessor architecture) late this year that will analyze Web requests and then direct requests to particular processors.
The market right now is largely populated by start-ups like FiberCycle and RLX Technologies. Many large PC companies, however, will enter the market soon. Both IBM and Compaq Computer have said they will release ultradense servers.
Intel is working on chips and chipsets that will blend power-saving techniques developed in the notebook processor world with server technologies such as ECC (error-correcting code) for minimizing data corruption.
"We're very concerned about the compute density. We have mobile technology that we can bring to bear" to reduce heat, said Paul Otellini, general manager of Intel's Architecture Group.
The WebBunker system comes out next month. A six-processor server will start at $10,900.