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Blade server pioneer RLX boosts power

RLX Technologies, a trailblazer of thin "blade" servers, will announce new two-processor models Monday that will help the company catch up to its larger competitors.

RLX Technologies, a pioneer of thin "blade" servers, will announce new two-processor models Monday that catch the company part way up to its larger competitors.

RLX got its start with a 3.5-inch tall chassis that could accommodate as many as 24 blade servers, a design that emphasized low power consumption over processing muscle. But when IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer followed RLX into the blade market, they chose the opposite priority.

On Monday, RLX will announce more powerful models, tacitly acknowledging that the major server companies had the right idea. And although the company doesn't plan to go as far as the mainstream companies, all of which have four-processor blades in the works, RLX's new designs are better suited to the low-cost supercomputer market the company aiming for.

"They're primarily focused at high-performance computing these days. Two-way servers are the standard in that space," said Illuminata analyst Gordon Haff.

Houston-based RLX will announce its first new blade chassis, the 10.5-inch tall 600ex system that can accommodate 10 of the company's new two-processor servers. The new 2800i and 3000i blades use Intel's 2.8GHz and later 3GHz Xeon processors and come with faster 1 gigabyte-per-second network connections, said RLX Chief Technology Officer Bob Van Steenberg.

All the products have a starting price of $2,400 and will be available in March, RLX said.

RLX's initial strategy was to sell lower-end servers for business uses such as hosting Web sites. However, as the torrid spending on Internet infrastructure evaporated, the company moved toward scientific customers that link numerous low-end servers together into what amounts to a single large computer.

The strategy, called "Beowulf" computing, typically uses the Linux operating system and special software called MPI (Message Passing Interface ) to shuttle information from one system to another. RLX is adding to that with its own management software and control servers called ControlTowerXT.

"They're hoping they're going to be a bit more attractive than the general-purpose players there," Haff said. The challenge, however, is that IBM Global Services and others can reproduce much of the expertise required to install Beowulf clusters, Haff said.

And for mainstream business customers, RLX isn't the best match, he added. "If you want something for your data center, if you want general-purpose (blade servers), you're probably going to go with an HP or IBM," Haff said.