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IDF Intel is introducing a reference design for what it calls "a new category" of microservers, along with low-wattage Xeon processors to power them.

The term "microserver" has been bandied about for some time now, with various and sundry vendors dipping their toes into the market for small, low-power, densely packed systems. Now Intel is reviving it in conjuntion with two new quad-core Xeons, the 45W Xeon L3426 and an even lower-power part scheduled for the first quarter of 2010, which will weigh in at a cool 30W.

Sean Maloney, EVP and co-director of the Intel Architecture Group, introduced the new Xeons at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco, noting that "It wasn't so long ago that people were trying to squeeze 30 watts into ugly notebooks."

Maloney said that the need for lower-power systems is clear. "Up to 25 per cent of the data center," he said, "is going to power."

Although a broad range of schemes are being used to address the power problem - Maloney cited denser blades, denser packages, optimized racks, and data-center containerization - he also said that "We do think the time is right to push into another new segment." And that would be what Intel is redubbing "microservers."

To that end, Intel is introducing a reference design for what it hopes will be a burgeoning microserver market segment. The reference design will fit 16 hot-swappable microserver modules into a 5U rack.

Stating the obvious - a time-honored tradition at keynotes - Maloney said that the microserver category "won't replace [other server] categories, it will augment them."

To support his microserver push, Maloney brought onto the keynote stage Andy Bechtolsheim, an industry vet who was the engineering brains behind the founding of Sun Microsystems and who is now the chief development officer and chairman of Arista Networks.

Bechtolsheim ladled his praise for the microserver concept with caveats, however, telling Maloney that "We have been talking to some of your engineers about this topic for a couple of months now, and it seems to me that as long as the microserver still has ECC memory, can do virtualization, and can support a decent amount of memory, it will be a very, very successful product."

Exactly whether Bechtolsheim's concerns are met by the reference design isn't yet clear. Despite Maloney saying that its microserver specs are available on Intel's website, they have yet to appear as of mid-Wednesday. ®

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