Thin computing comes to back office

Just as it managers are turning to smaller, simpler devices to replace PCs for some applications, they're also measuring up the advantages of smaller, single-purpose servers and storage devices for the back end.Data General, QLogic Corp.

Just as it managers are turning to smaller, simpler devices to replace PCs for some applications, they're also measuring up the advantages of smaller, single-purpose servers and storage devices for the back end.

Data General, QLogic Corp. and LSI Logic Corp. each discussed at Comdex here last week new systems and components that fit more processing power in a smaller footprint and are easier to service and upgrade than traditional servers.

DG, acquired by EMC Corp. last month, is expanding from its traditional high-end Aviion Non-Uniform Memory Access servers to create a new breed of small, dedicated server devices based on Intel Corp. processors.

The first of these devices will be a network-attached storage device only a few inches high and due by mid-2000. In the follow ing months, DG will develop other devices devoted to running Web servers and Microsoft Corp.'s Site Server as well as hosting applications and print services, said Robert Dutkowsky, president of the Westboro, Mass., systems maker.

"We will have a basic architecture next spring that with a little work [will let us] offer an appliance for [hosting Microsoft] Exchange or other applications," Dutkowsky said.

DG is not the first company to introduce thin computing for the back end. IBM is expected to roll out a smaller version of its Netfinity and RS/6000 servers by the end of the year.

Smaller servers require smaller components, which is where QLogic, of Costa Mesa, Calif., and LSI, of Milpitas, Calif., come in. Both companies previewed new host bus adapters that are 1.75 inches tall and can fit into a new generation of small, rack-mountable servers expected to come to market next year.

While LSI's unnamed adapter is still in development, QLogic displayed new low- profile, Fibre Channel-based adapters. These smaller boards are short enough to fit into a server's PCI slots vertically, so more host bus adapters can be packed into a machine.

This new generation of thin server presents risks as well as opportunities. At 1.75 inches high, as many as 42 thin devices could be placed in a standard rack, creating a dilemma on where to place power cords and network cables.

In addition, stacking so many servers in a rack leaves little room for air flow, which is needed to cool the devices.

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