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Fabric7 enters enterprise server game

Powered by AMD Opteron chips and a belief that the Unix server market was ripe for disruption, Fabric7 entered the enterprise server market with its first family of x64 servers.

The enterprise hardware game found a new player recently. And this one thinks it can shake up the big boys.

Mountain View, Calif.-based enterprise server company Fabric7 Systems Inc. officially opened for business this week, introducing its first family of servers and what it is calling "a fundamental advance in enterprise computing."

The company, which has raised $32 million in private funding, has partnered with Advanced Micro Devices Inc., basing its designs around its Opteron chips.

Meanwhile, Fabric7 is facing an uphill battle. Many x86 customers are already heavily invested in bigger companies and would be hesitant to bet IT stability on a startup.

But Fabric7 said its real goal is "disruption" of the Unix market -- the midrange space dominated by Sun Microsystems Inc., IBM and Hewlett-Packard Co. The company is hoping that, thanks to brand-new architecture, it can turn the economics of the Unix market upside down.

Or at the very least, wake it from what Fabric7 sees as a vendor-induced slumber.

"We actually think the market is ready for disruption," said Fabric7 CEO, president and founder Sharad Mehrotra. "We saw the midrange market dominated by proprietary Unix and CPU-based designs … each of the three vendors was shipping systems that ran on their own CPUs, and saw an opportunity to shift the economics downward."

"The enterprise server infrastructure of today's data center has become overly complex and sluggish, taxing organizations with extra hardware, software and consulting costs," Mehrotra said. "[We've] responded with an innovative and cost-effective solution."

Of course, startup companies that seek to challenge the established IT vendors are often just as interested in lining themselves up to eventually partner with one of the big boys as they are about standing on their own two feet.

For now, Mehrotra said Fabric7 is focused on establishing a strong independent footing in the enterprise server market.

"We are definitely planning to build the company for the long haul, "Mehrotra said. "But we never rule out discussions for partnerships."

Jonathan Eunice, president and principal IT adviser at Nashua, N.H.-based Illuminata Inc., praised the company's approach, citing a "virtuoso switched fabric" that simultaneously attacks I/O performance and manageability challenges and delivers mainframe-like I/O acceleration and partitioning.

For more information:

IBM grabs lead in Unix server revenue

Sun looking to light Sparc with new chip

Eunice said Fabric7's strategy is to build an Opteron mainframe, or a midrange server that features many of the strengths normally associated with Big Iron, such as high levels of partitioning. He also lauds the design because it allows users to scale up and support larger databases, applications and memory footprints.

"The fact that you can scale up, and do that on an Opteron basis, is pretty unique," Eunice said. "If you're able to [offer] high I/O [performance], you can scale up on x64 and its inherently partitionable, that's what makes it very interesting."

The first Fabric7 server family includes its flagship 16-way x64 servers, the Q160 and Q80, which feature hardware partitioning, mainframe-inspired virtualized I/O and low-latency, high-bandwidth fabric.

The Q160 server is available immediately, with a starting list price of $144,000. The Q80 server is currently available for customer trials and will be generally available in January with a starting list price of $42,000.

The Q160 can be configured with up to 128 GB of memory and up to 30 Gbps of external I/O. The Q80 can be configured with up to 128 GB of memory, eight full-speed (133 MHz) PCI-X slots and eight built-in 1 Gbps Ethernet RJ-45 ports. Both run off-the-shelf Red Hat Linux, Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server and Microsoft Windows Server 2003.

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Luke Meredith, News Writer

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