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IBM introduces new server form factor with iDataPlex

Big Blue is pushing iDataPlex, a blade/rack server hybrid, for Web 2.0 companies, but research labs seeking dense computing environments could also benefit.

IBM Corp. has introduced a new kind of Intel-based x86 server: the iDataPlex which is almost halfway between rack and blade servers. Eighty-four of them can fit into one of IBM's specialized 42U racks.

IBM touts the machines as a solution for data center users in search of power-dense computing. The rack is similar to a regular 42U cabinet, but larger and rotated 90 degrees so that the width is greater than the depth. Two of these new servers can then fit side by side in a single rack unit. IBM says the reduced depth of the iDataPlex servers and rack enables cold air to cool off electronics more easily because a server doesn't have to travel as far.

The company will sell them mostly as a package deal: The minimum order is for the rack and 84 servers, which starts at $150,000.

"The iDataPlex chassis design reduces the amount of air needed for cooling by half and incorporates power supply and fan technologies that increase energy efficiency by up to 40% over standard racks," Charles King, an analyst at Hayward, Calif.-based Pund-IT Inc., wrote in a report.

Not just for Web 2.0 

IBM has pitched iDataPlex as a boon for mainly Web 2.0 companies. It offers a relatively canned quote from Yahoo about appreciating IBM's "commitment to drive greater power efficiency and density in the data center." The "i" in "iDataPlex" stands for "Internet," according to David Franko, IBM business development manager for the product. ("Data" stands for data center, and "Plex" stands for multiple.) But the product could fit in any dense computing environment, such as university and other research labs.

The iDataPlex chassis design reduces the amount of air needed for cooling by half and incorporates power supply and fan technologies that increase energy efficiency.
Charles Kinganalyst, Pund-IT Inc.

Texas Tech University, for example, is in the process of building a separate 1,000-square-foot data center specifically for its research work on molecular modeling, weather computations and fluid dynamics. Currently the university has two Dell clusters that together have about eight teraflops of computing power, but it is looking to upgrade when it moves to the new facility. In addition to all the usual suspects -- Dell, Sun, HP -- the university is considering iDataPlex.

"We design space with a fairly high density of power, which requires a lot of cooling," said Phil Smith, the senior director of the university's High Performance Computing Center. "The iDataPlex model has some interesting features. One is they've looked at the power function of the entire system and have reduced the power per computer cycle. That, of course, interests us."

The new 1,000-square-foot raised-floor data center will run at about 400 watts per square foot. If it did go with iDataPlex, Texas Tech wouldn't buy IBM's Rear Door Heat exchanger, at least at first, because it would be the first computing system it would install, and the data center could cool the load with its two Liebert CRAC units.

James Abbott, the associate director at the computing center, said he has seen something similar to IBM's iDataPlex. It came from Super Micro Computer Inc. and was also like fitting two systems in a 1U form factor. But Abbott said the power draw of the systems was such that you couldn't fully populate a rack. Another somewhat similar product comes from Rackable Systems Inc., which sells DC-powered servers and racks that are half-depth. But an appeal of iDataPlex is that it comes fully populated and ready to plug in, Abbott said. There's no need to unpack servers, fit them into the rack and connect everything before you get up and running.

"It's more of an entire package," he said. "There isn't a lot of stuff you have to add to it to make it into a large cluster."

Sam Segran, the CIO and vice president of IT at Super Micro, said they hope to decide which cluster to go for in the next month or two. The new data center is scheduled to go live this summer.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Mark Fontecchio, News Writer. You can also check out our Server Specs blog.

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