Rackable's super efficient gear fills the cloud

Proud to be dense


In a weird sort of way, you can think of this as Rackable Systems 2.0.

Rackable this week ushered in a set of new servers, including one system that fits into the IceCube data center in container. The boxes reflect Rackable's ever-present focus on delivering as much horsepower as possible while consuming the least amount of energy. This recipe has served Rackable well, allowing it to pick up some of the world's top service providers as customers.

With the fresh gear, Rackable is sharing more basics – motherboards and power supplies – across the systems in an effort to reduce cost and manufacturing complexity.

The XE2004 stands as the new base system. It's a 2U unit, which uses Rackable's patented half-depth, back-to-back design. So, it marries a pair of two-socket servers around a single power supply (AC/DC), along with four 3.5-inch disks. This system is shipping now with Intel's 5100 Series Xeon chips.

The XE2006 is the XE2004's bigger brother, supporting six disks instead of four. It will ship in the third quarter with Xeons and Opterons available.

By doing a 2U, back-to-back design, Rackable was able to cram in more disks in its latest systems, while still sticking to the 1U half-depth density. Rackable claims to offer more storage per rack unit than just about anyone else in the market.

And the XE2208 notches things higher once again, combining four two-socket systems and eight disks in a full-sized 2U unit. This box also ships in the third quarter with Xeon 5100 Series chips. As a point of reference, the server chews through only 160 watts per two-way chunk thanks to its use of low voltage processors. It's the XE2008 which will go into Rackable IceCube containers, bringing a single container up to 2,800 two-socket servers, which is twice as many as today.

A much beefier 9U box dubbed the ScaleOut Blade ST2000 arrives as a half-depth enclosure, packing 12 two-socket servers, 48 3.5-inch disk and three power supply modules. This tubby mother ships in the third quarter with low voltage Xeons.

It's somewhat amusing that Rackable decided to launch these new systems under the "Cloud Computing" umbrella. This is not a case of a company reinventing itself to jump on the latest marketing bandwagon. No, Rackable was invented with the cloud in mind, and now it has a much-hyped, handy label for the gear.

The company's products continue to stand out in a market increasingly flooded with "cloud" offerings. In general, Rackable compromises less than the Tier 1 vendors on things such as power consumption and storage density because it's catering to service providers and high performance computing types rather than a broad audience. And even the Tier 1s' cloud specific gear such as IBM's new iDataPlex system resemble Rackable clones that didn't quite hit the mark.

One example of Rackable's ingenuity comes via a custom designed power supply which shows 93 per cent efficiency with AC power and 96 per cent efficiency with DC power. That's well above the other guys' "power efficient" supplies, which often fail to crack the 90 per cent barrier.

Beyond all this, Rackable's data center in a container looks like the best design going at the moment. And that's an accomplishment worth celebrating these days, since Microsoft has more or less justified the entire container concept by basing a new, massive data center in Chicago around the systems.

The major challenge facing Rackable will be how long it can out do the big boys. You get the feeling that they'll eventually catch up with the energy efficient designs now that they're intent on copying Rackable with full force. This is part of the reason why we think a software company and not a hardware maker might end up as Rackable's most likely acquirer. ®


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