Micro Servers, Maximum Benefits

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What began as an oddity is poised to become a major factor in data center infrastructure. If the projections are correct, micro servers will be in great demand going forward as enterprises seek to streamline footprints and cut energy costs.

According to research firm Infiniti, the global micro server market is expected to grow nearly 50 percent by 2014 as the small but powerful devices continue to hit both performance and security benchmarks that enterprises require to run advanced applications. This comes as good news for Dell, SeaMicro and HP, which have invested heavily in micro server technology at a time when traditional server sales are leveling off due to virtualization and consolidation.

SeaMicro offered the latest advancement in micro server technology this week with the SM10000-XE, a 64-node, single-socket enclosure sporting Intel's quad-core Sandy Bridge Xeon E3 processor and up to 32 GB of Samsung-built DRAM. With Xeons under the hood, the company hopes to attract heavier workloads than previous micros, such as Java, MemCacheD and NoSQL applications.

To date, that kind of processing has been out of reach for the micro set because most are built around the Intel Atom, which consume less power than even the Xeon E3s but often are relegated to supporting roles due to their limited capabilities. That may be changing soon, however, as Intel is preparing the general release of new 64-bit Atoms based on the Cedarview micro-architecture, giving the platform enterprise-class tools like built-in virtualization, error-correction, PCIe and Hyper-Threading.

Naturally, this leads one to wonder how AMD plans to respond. In fact, the company does have a micro server chip as part of a newly revamped roadmap in which modular designs and data flow architectures are carried across multiple product lines. The Zurich platform is slated for micros right now, with plans to supplant it with the Delhi chip once the new PileDriver architecture is finalized. No word yet on exactly when all this will happen, however.

Micro servers have the triple advantages of being low-cost, low-power and highly scalable, giving enterprises and cloud providers a quick and easy means of ramping up physical resources to meet user and data demands.

If this market develops as quickly as many expect it to, deploying server capacity will become both less costly and less complicated.