The alternative the researchers advocate is named FAWN, short for Fast Array of Wimpy Nodes. It's described in a paper just presented at the Symposium on Operating Systems Principles.
In short, the researchers believe some work can be managed with lower expense and lower power consumption using a cluster of servers built with lower-end processors and flash memory than with a general-purpose server. And these days, with green technology in vogue and power costs no longer an afterthought, efficient computing is a big deal.
It's not just academic work. Google, Intel, and NetApp are helping to fund the project, and the researchers are talking to Facebook, too. "We want to understand their challenges," Andersen said.
For more, read "Researchers tout 'wimpy nodes' for Net computing" from CNET News.