VIA spins mini-mobo disk array
Big disks, small package
Taiwanese x86 chip and mini-motherboard maker VIA Technologies has launched a rack-mounted disk array based on its own Mini-ITX motherboards.
Disk arrays are getting more and more brains to do thin provisioning, data replication, flash copy, and all kinds of other high-end functions that companies want - and are willing to pay lots of money for. But sometimes, all you want is a box of disks and a controller that lets it talk to a network. Sometimes, you want to burn as little juice as possible - and you don't want to shell out much dough. Enter the NSR7800 disk array from VIA.
The 2U chassis has room for eight 3.5-inch SATA-II disk drives, which are not hot-pluggable but are nonetheless front-accessible in the array. They have locks to keep people from messing with them as well as blinky lights to show you what's working and what isn't.
The disks, which scale up to 2 TB each in capacity, are attached to a Mini-ITX motherboard made by VIA. The Mini-ITX is usually for embedded applications or small PCs. This particular board has a 1.5 GHz VIA C7 x86 processor and has two Gigabit Ethernet ports, which connect it out to the network. The Mini-ITX board has a Mini-PC port, which allows hardware virtual private networking or antivirus modules to plug in, and VIA also has push-button backup and recovery options available for the unit, which makes it easier for SMBs with limited IT departments (or none) to do backup and recovery.
The NSR7800 array  supports Windows Server 2003 and 2008 (the documentation said Windows Server 2007, but we know what you meant) as well as Windows Home Server and unspecified Linuxes. VIA has already launched a similar network disk array in a tower configuration, called NSD7800 Networked Storage Server .
This is essentially the same box in a tower configuration, with some differences on the Mini-ITX configuration. The machines have a skinny 1 GB of DDR2 main memory, but this is enough for what is essentially a file server if the load is not too heavy.
VIA has not announced pricing for either machine.
While the Mini-ITX form factor has found a niche on the desktop (especially among cheapskates who like to tinker), this type of mobo has not made its way into the data center. Maybe a few data closets here and there. (Like my own, for instance, where I have a cluster of these servers running Linux). But like VIA, server maker Rackable Systems is giving the idea a try with its MicroSlice cookie sheet servers, announced in January .
It would be interesting to see more tier two vendors play around with Mini-ITX boards and their smaller relatives: the Nano-ITX and the Pico-ITX. There are a number of Mini-ITX board suppliers, which offer support for x64 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices as well as VIA's C7 x86 clones, and there are even some ARM and PowerPC boards out there.
Intel's Atom chips are also a natural for these boards, given their low power consumption. But they don't have a lot of oomph either, so in many cases companies will have to get lots of them. The beauty is that even with many more machines, the power efficiency of such modestly powered boxes can exceed fewer numbers of faster and hotter x64 servers. ®