Dell Chooses Via Over Intel Or AMD

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Dell is turning to Via Technologies to power a new server designed to run in dense Web hosting environments

Dell engineers, tasked with creating a server that offered full functionality but that could fit into highly dense Web hosting environments, are turning to Via Technologies to power the systems.

Dell is preparing to roll out the XS11-VX8, code-named Fortuna, which is powered by Via’s Nano processor and aimed at Web hosting companies that tend to buy thousands of servers at a time.

Dell officials said the first prototypes of the new system will start reaching about 15 businesses in about three weeks.

The Fortuna system not only shows Dell to be an innovator, rather than simply a company content to follow the market, but also is a significant step for Via in an x86 market dominated by Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

Intel Atom shipments slip as the PC processor market bottoms out.

“This is definitely a very significant step for us,” said Epan Wu, senior director of chip marketing at Via. “Dell is a very well-known player, but they’re also a new opportunity for us … because they’re a demonstration [of] how our [technology] can be used.”

The system, which in most configurations will sell for about $400 (£264) per server, is coming out of Dell’s Data Center Solutions group, a 2-year-old unit that particularly addresses issues in what Drew Schulke, product marketing manager for the group, called the “hyperscale market,” the businesses that buy thousands, rather than 10 or 20, of servers at a time.

A couple of large Web hosting companies came to Dell saying they had large workloads that, while not complicated, needed systems that were very power-efficient and could fit into a dense environment, Schulke said.

The Via Nano not only offered low power consumption, but also could handle 64-bit applications and had hardware-based virtualization capabilities. At full power, the system consumes 20 to 29 watts of power; in idle mode, that drops to 15 watts, significantly less than a standard server, he said.

Because of this, Dell can fit 12 servers—each complete with such features as their own memory, hard drive and two Gigabit Ethernet NICs (network interface cards)—into a 2U (3.5-inch) chassis that gives the systems shared power and cooling.

“We can come in to a relatively power-constrained rack [environment] and can consolidate seven racks of their current [servers] down into one of these,” Schulke said. “It was a pretty easy decision to go with [the Via Nano].”

He said Dell has been working with five Web hosting companies on the development of the system, and expects there are 30 to 40 such businesses worldwide that could take advantage of it.

Power and cooling have been increasingly thorny issues in the data centre as smaller and more powerful systems have been more tightly packed into facilities.

RLX Technologies first tried addressing the problem earlier this decade with the first blade servers, at the time powered by Transmeta’s low-power chips. Both companies have since vanished.

Intel, AMD, Sun Microsystems and IBM all have been trying to boost the power and performance of their chips, and systems makers are looking to take advantage of those processors.

On 4 May, Super Micro Computer announced it was putting Intel’s Atom chip—developed initially for such client products as netbooks—into several new systems in its Server Building Block Solutions portfolio. The offerings can be used as either servers or customised motherboards.

Dell officials said the goal of their Data Centre Solutions group is to ensure that they get the best solutions to their customers, which regularly calculate costs of necessities such as power and cooling to the penny and are looking for products that drive down overall costs.

“We could lose a deal [based] on a single watt,” Schulke said.

Via’s Wu said her company made sure that such enterprise needs as 64-bit capabilities and hardware-based virtualization were including in the Nano, but did not ramp up the power footprint of the chip.

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