Rackable shuns blade server fad

Blade servers are a growing segment of the server market, but vendors like Rackable Systems won't offer them any time soon

Blade servers continue to be a high-growth segment with blade shipments 33% higher in 2006 that the previous year, Gartner reported last week. But not all vendors are hopping on the blade bandwagon.

While Hewlett Packard Co. (HP) screams "blade everything," Rackable Systems, a relatively small, California-based provider of server and storage products, focused on scale-out data centers, has no plans to offer blades.

"Large-scale data centers already see results similar to blades from us. We offer hybrid servers similar to the competition's blades, but with scale-out server features," said Colette LaForce, vice president of marketing, Rackable.

The company sees no need to offer blade servers because its x86 servers already offer much better density than traditional rack-mounted systems. At 15 1/2- inches deep, they are about half the depth of most servers, allowing up to 88 servers in a single cabinet -- compared with 42 traditional servers.

Rackable's Scale-Out Series rack

That compares favorably with blade servers. According to IBM, 84 dual-processor servers fit in the space of a traditional rack.

Rackable's products also tackle other data center issues, like thermal efficiency, with servers that don't have internal power supplies.

Rackable's proprietary system uses DC power rather than the typical AC power, and the rectifiers that convert the incoming AC power to DC power are external. Without internal power supplies, Rackable servers generate less heat than conventional servers, the company claims, and the rectifiers can be located away from the server racks to be closer to cooling sources.

Rackable, a long-time business partner of Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD), also announced last week that it would offer the newest AMD Opteron processors, models 2220 and 8220. The processors have AMD's native dual-core technology and support DDR2 memory. Rackable will also offer AMD's upcoming quad-core processors when they become available.

"The core reason a data center comes to us is for density," LaForce said. "We are very particular about what we pack into our systems so that we deploy the most efficient servers that save on power and cooling."

Rackable claims pricing for its systems is competitive with companies like HP, IBM and Dell Inc., but LaForce played down the purchase price angle. "We find that data centers are more interested in operational expenses and not so much the cost of the hardware itself. It doesn't really matter if you've only spent a certain amount on a server. It is a waste if it is pumping out a ton of heat and is costing you extra money for cooling," he said.

Sticking to what it knows seems to be working for Rackable. Still a small player compared to IBM, Dell and HP, Rackable had the highest growth among the top 10 vendors that ship servers worldwide, with a 68% increase in 2006, according to a Gartner report release Feb. 22.

The only other vendor in the top 10 to increase its shipment share was NEC. In server shipments, HP remained the worldwide leader for 2006, growing 8%.

"You do hear their name quite a bit," said Gordon Haff, an analyst with Illuminata Inc.. "They're one of the smaller x86 server companies that has managed to break out from the pack."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Bridget Botelho, News Writer

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