Liquid Computing launches high-end server

Ottawa-based start-up begins selling flexible machines that house dozens of AMD Opteron processors.

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Liquid Computing, an Ottawa-based start-up, has begun selling its high-end servers based on Advanced Micro Devices' Opteron processor.

The systems, called LiquidIQ, have room for as many as 80 Opteron chips in a 45.5-inch-tall rack-mountable chassis, and as many as 12 chassis can be linked together with a single high-speed communication network. They're geared initially for high-performance computing markets, where the company promises faster performance than conventional clusters of x86 servers, but eventually the company hopes ordinary commercial buyers will be interested.

A chief virtue of Liquid Computing systems is flexibility, Chief Executive Brian Hurley said Monday. Administrators can divide the chips in any combination of servers with as many as four dual-core processors each--for example, 10 four-processor machines and 20 dual-processor machines--and reconfigure at will to adjust to changing circumstances.

The systems' built-in virtualization technology decouples the processors from computing resources such as memory, networking and the input-output system. That means that the system can be reconfigured without disrupting higher-level software, and components can be connected to ensure maximum efficiency compared with stand-alone servers and networking gear.

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"It allows people to eliminate truckloads and truckloads of equipment," Hurley said.

Hurley wouldn't reveal prices, but said LiquidIQ makes economic sense for customers who buy four x86 servers with four processors each and 10-gigabit-per-second networking equipment. Such products would cost tens of thousands of dollars.

Selling high-end systems is tough, cautioned Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff. "There's a market for rarified clusters--IBM sells Blue Genes, Cray sells XD-1s. But the market is small for the ultra-optimized high-end clusters," he said.

Hurley counters that Liquid Computing systems can do more with less. "It requires fewer processors per work load," he said.

And the company hopes to expand to a broader market. Intended initial customers include those with technically intense jobs such as those involving financial services firms' risk calculations. Eventually, the company hopes to reach customers with more traditional computing tasks, such as those hosting software as a service.

The LiquidIQ system will be updated "early next year" to let customers carve 16-socket systems from the pool of processors, Hurley said, doubling again in 2007 with the arrival of quad-core Opterons to enable systems with 64 processor cores.

The company has systems in trial at 15 customer sites.