Build a 14.5 watt data center in a shoebox
All it takes is a buffalo and some courage
Those supercomputing guys love to build their massive data centers full of hardware and high-end cooling systems. They make you feel like a real man or at least a real geek, which is important.
Folks with smaller egos and perhaps smaller hands might consider building a tinier, more energy-friendly supercomputer. Consider this our Lilliputian Data Center Challenge.
As far as we can tell, your best bet for going small will rely on wares from Plat'Home and Buffalo Technology.
Plat'Home has pumped its tiny servers into the Japanese market for years. Recently, however, it became more ambitious, offering up some gear to North Americans.
The company's fancy MicroServers make even 1U boxes look like bloated giants which - like Britney Spears - are in desperate need of a rigorous training regimen.
Witness the OpenMicroServer, which this week went on sale  to North American folk. It's 9 inches by 4 inches by 1.3 inches. The system has built-in Power over Ethernet and can run fanless at up to 122°F over long periods of time. CRAC units need not apply. It also sports a pair of Gigabit Ethernet ports, a 100Mb port, a pair of USB ports and a pair of serial ports.
The unit runs the SSD Linux operating system, which straps NetBSD userland functions onto the Linux kernel.
Okay, okay. We'll grant you that the system limps along on a single 400MHz (AMD/Raza) Alchemy MIPS chip. But we're after something spectacular and unique here. So, why not ignore the chip and embrace a box that reflects an entire cultural ethos?
"The OpenMicroServer has what we like to think of as very ‘Japanese characteristics,'" said Tomoyasu Suzuki, president of Plat'Home. "It doesn't stand out, and it doesn't complain. It just gets the job done. This 4th generation product - selling since 2001 - fits small and large companies that need reliability. Tuck it in the server room, set it up, and you can depend on it to keep doing its job."
Those of you not tempted by the OpenMicroServer might want to check out the OpenBlockS line, which also ships in North America now.
This puppy is just 4.5 inches by 3.2 inches by 1.5 inches, while weighing in at just 255g.
The OpenBlockS 266 can run at up to 104°F and includes a CompactFlash slot that's DMA-ready. This unit relies on a 266MHz PowerPC chip, 128MB of memory and a pair of 10/100 Ethernet ports. You'll find all of the specifications here .
Plat'Home pitches this as a handy box for things like vending machines and is proud to point out that you can fit five of the devices on a single 19" rack slide, if needed. In addition, the company boasts that standard x86 boxes from the likes of Dell and HP will consume as much power as 76 of the OpenBlockS 266s, which needs just 4.5 watts.
And now onto the storage.
It's sometimes hard to be inspired by NAS (network attached storage) gear, but Buffalo Technology is doing its damnedest to spark customers' imaginations.
Earlier this month, Buffalo dished out the dual drive LinkStation Mini. This baby weighs just 1.1 pounds and measures 1.6 inches by 3.2 inches by 5.3 inches. It will ship in volume next month with a capacity of 1TB.
Buffalo aims this device at Windows (Vista, XP and 2000) and Mac (10.3.9+) users who want to store a lot of media files. The box eats up just 10W and has a handy web access tool  for grabbing files whenever you need them.
It's got a built-in DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) certified media server and back-up software as well, which is nice.
"It also includes a Remote Power Feature, which can power up the unit remotely with the included Navigator software," the company said. "The extra USB port allows users to add an additional external hard drive for expanded capacity or a printer that can then be shared via the integrated print server. It also supports UPS so the unit can gracefully shutdown in the event of a power failure."
The LinkStation Mini uses a pair of 5,400RPM 2.5 inch notebook drives to perform its magic, making it the only Buffalo storage unit not to run on SATA drives. You can configure the device in RAID 0 or RAID 1.
The system will start at $699.
The Plat'Home and Buffalo Technology hardware discussed will not actually get you to a supercomputer unless you're very, very crafty and have a liberal use of the word 'super.' (But, you know, some creative types have made solid work  of DIY Shuttle computers, building a world-class machine at Los Alamos National Lab.) A savvy and admittedly deranged admin, however, could take this tiny hardware and build a very energy-efficient data center in a desk drawer.
Or maybe you'll follow the manufactures' advice and use the gear for the tasks intended. That is, if you're a coward. ®