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Server start-up says Dell is too hot to be cheap

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Start-up Azul Systems has made an example out of Dell by pitching the server giant as a seller of hot, pricey gear.

Azul packed a whopping 1,248 processor cores and 800GB of memory in a single, standard server rack and drew just 9.1kW - 137 cores per kW.

Not one to shy away from entering a rival system in a challenge, Azul then stacked a rack full of two-way, 1U PowerEdge 1850 systems from Dell. Stuck with just single core chips, Dell could only muster 84 cores and up to 672GB of memory in the rack. It did, however, beat Azul in one aspect - power consumption. The Dell rack hummed away to the tune of 23.1 kW - or just 3.64 cores per kW.

All told, Azul pumped out 37.7 times better cores/kW than Dell and required 60 per cent less energy than Dell to power 15 times more cores. And we know this because Azul told us so in a press release.

“Azul offers better economics than Dell which is seen in the marketplace as the pinnacle of economic efficiency," said Shahin Khan, chief marketing officer at Azul.

Some of you are probably wondering what the hell an Azul Systems is, while other might ask, "So what?".

To the first item, Azul makes a pretty unique type of server appliance. It starts with the 24-core Vega processor - designed in house - and then links a bunch of the chips together to form up to a 384-way screamer. Which bring us quickly to the second item.

These multicore processor-powered boxes are built to run multithreaded software - in particular Java application servers and other virtual machine-happy apps. Azul claims that this design gives it a major performance edge over more traditional servers.

The company, however, doesn't provide specific performance data publicly. And, as you might note from the Dell comparison, Azul keeps the discussion on power consumption and cores and doesn't say much about raw performance.

Azul is playing on a common theme in the server industry, and that's a move to lower-power parts. At last week's Intel Developer Forum, Intel explained how it would progress far away from screaming hot single-core chips and toward lower-power multicore dynamos. Sun Microsystems and IBM also talk up similar strategies around parts of their server lines.

While many remain hesitant to guarantee Azul as a long-term success, analysts do tend to praise the start-up for pushing servers far in a new direction. Michael Dell may be less forthcoming with such kind words. ®

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