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Hardware Today: What's on Your Server Wish List?

By Drew Robb (Send Email)
Posted Oct 30, 2006


You don't have to don a pair of Ran Bans and white polyester suit and then strut around your server room like Tony Manero (a la John Travolta in Saturday Night Fever) to look cool. But there are certain items anyone who's anyone in IT simply has to have. These items will not only make you look cool, they will also deliver the goods in terms of keeping server room temperatures low and reducing the power load too.

As the year winds down, it's time to think about where your budget dollars will go next year. Or, if you're lucky, where to spend this year's surplus before Dec. 31. Here are some products that do more with less and curb power demands.

A Cool Server That's Hot

Sun has re-established some of its earlier market cachet via its Sun Fire T1000 and T2000 servers. These "CoolThreads" models are likely the key reason the systems vendor was able to take back third spot from Dell in the server big leagues. And with more than $100 million in sales in one quarter, the UltrSPARC-T1-based servers may well be destined to join Cabbage Patch Kids, Furby and Tickle Me Elmo as the Holiday Season toy everyone must have. A big part of the popularity of the Sun "Model T" is the sheer volume of processing power available within a small power footprint. While other vendors boast about dual cores, Sun is way ahead in processor architecture.

"These UltraSPARC-based servers have chips with eight cores, each with four threads," says Ted Gibson, an engagement architect at Sun Microsystems. "Its chip uses the same amount of power as a small light bulb — 70 watts."

The T1000 is the less expensive of the two. Those wanting to try it out will find the entry price for this 1U rack server to be around $3,000, Gibson said.

Cool on the Cheap

While Sun dominates the Unix market, Dell remains strong in the x86 server space, especially the low end. Its entry-level PowerEdge SC440, for example, is priced at $599 ($399 at presstime per a short-term special offer). The server makes a welcome addition to most server rooms, particularly those where the budget approval person would make a fine role model for Scrooge.

"The SC440 uses Xeon 3000 series chips," says Ryan Franks, product manager of Dell's PowerEdge Server Group. "It is typically used for file/print, e-mail, Web and application server purposes."

Racks Can Be Cool

A good server deserves a classy cabinet. And plenty around look the part and do the job. Knurr AG of Germany has a range of rack systems starting with the Knurr Miracel with an aluminum frame for $1,100. It also offers a mesh version for around $1,500. Instead of having a glass door at the front and a steel door at the rear, it provides an aluminum mesh that permits 80 percent of the air to flow through to improve air-cooling efficiency. And for those looking for the top of the line, the Knurr Cooltherm cabinet has a water-cooled design for high-density environments — for a little over $10,000 per rack.

According to Knurr sales manager Rod Arnold, Barclays Bank in the United Kingdom and the University of Dresden in Germany use Cooltherm to house mission-critical servers.

"Barclays successfully tested Cooltherm with a load of over 30 kW," says Arnold. "Systems OEMs charge a lot more for their cabinets, yet they are less flexible when compared to the range of engineered-to-order models that we offer."

HP, too, has gotten into the liquid cooled rack business. The HP Modular Cooling System (MCS) ties in to the building chilling system to bring cold water right beside an HP 10,000 GT rack. The MCS is an additional box weighing about 900 pounds (without water), which blows chilled air directly onto the servers in the 42U rack it serves. It costs about $30,000.

"MCS provides 20 gallons per minute of water chilled to 5 or 10 degrees Celcius," says Richard Brooke, an HP enterprise infrastructure specialist. "It can handle a 30 kW load."

Double-Secret UPS

The HP rack mentioned above comes with build in Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) features. But many racks need UPS support. Liebert of Columbus, Ohio, for example, has a product line that ranges from 2U to the 1000+ kVA systems that protect massive facilities.

"With the number and density of servers on the rise, you need better ways to distribute power to and manage power within racks," says Peter Panfil, vice president of engineering at Liebert. "Our UPS systems feature online double-conversion UPS technology to provide protection against all types of power disturbances."

Liebert's PowerSure PSI is a 2U line-interactive UPS in sizes from 1000 VA to 3000 VA. The 3000 VA version starts at around $1,700, and the 1000 VA model is around $500.

Tile We Meet Again

Purse string issues may limit the options for taking the the heat out of the server room, but possibilities remain. Take the subject of the floor tiles. Perforated tiles are generally placed in the cold aisles to bring cold air to the heat load. Most people don't give them a second thought.

But Tate Access Floors of Jessup, Maryland, has found out with a new slant for this everyday item. Its GrateAir tile is an aluminum grate that has twice the open area of regular tiles. That translates into a 300-percent increase in cubic feet per minute of cold air into the server room.

"GrateAire can be used in new and existing server rooms," says Ralph Manion, national sales director of Tate Access Floors. "Although it costs 15 percent more than regular tiles, it pays for itself in terms of reduced power and cooling bills."

Inexpensive SAN?

Inexpensive SANs have been touted for some time, but Zetera's Hammer Z-Series really delivers. It strips away the need for expensive Fibre Channel technology, making implementing a SAN a piece of cake.

"Most people who don't have a SAN think they are too complex and too expensive to implement," says Jeff Greenberg, senior director of product marketing at Zetera. "All you need to implement the Hammer Z-Series is an Ethernet port."

Each unit has a throughput of 80 MB per second. Any computer on the network can access the unit and store or retrieve data rapidly. A small desktop version contains 1 TB of capacity and costs $1,299. Larger versions are available. The data within is protected using RAID.

Update Your Image

While Tony Manero was the king of the Brooklyn dance floor, he came to realize that bigger things awaited him across the water in Manhattan. Similarly in the server room, what once wowed visitors, soon becomes staid and unexciting.

The items listed above are one remedy. Not only do they offer something new to talk about, but most of them will also enable you to do more with less or make a big dent in your power demands.

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