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Hold the extras

The modern micro server may look like a blade server but there are some important differences. The server nodes have a minimalist design with no extra peripherals or unnecessary slots. Extra stuff on the board adds cost and heat and cuts down on density in the data centre.

These days, micro servers tend to be single-socket machines with four slots for main memory and one or two Gigabit Ethernet ports and enough Sata ports to support four disks.

The idea is to use desktop or single-socket server processors with reasonably low power bands. The micro servers share power and cooling across their trays or chassis, and they generally do not have service processors, in-chassis management or in-chassis switching like blade servers do.

Here's the latest micro server from Dell:

Dell PowerEdge C5125

This sled, as Dell calls it, runs the full length of a standard chassis and has room for a single Athlon II X2 and X4 or Phenom II X4 processors from Advanced Micro Devices; the 25W, 45W and 65W chips are supported.

The server supports 2GB and 4GB memory sticks and maxes out at 16GB. This design has an embedded dual-port Gigabit Ethernet controller and has four Sata ports, with four 2.5in or two 3.5in Sata disks on the sled as well as 160GB solid state disks.

I/O performance is key. The Viking chassis, as shown below, has two hot plug power supplies rated at 1,400W with a 92 per cent efficiency rating.

Dell PowerEdge-C Viking Chassis

The Dell PowerEdge C5000 "Viking" chassis

Dell also has a variant of the micro server that is based on Intel's Xeon E3-1200 processor, which has a very similar configuration but supports up to 32GB of main memory for the single-socket processor. Up to a dozen of the skinny sleds can be slid into the Viking chassis.

If you want to use a PCI-Express mezzanine card to attach a peripheral to the micro server, the Intel-based sled comes in a fatter version that fits up to eight in a chassis.

Finely cut chips

Others besides Dell are into micro servers. The Server System Infrastructure (SSI) forum, which is attempting to establish blade and rack server standards, has forged one for micro servers.

The SSI micro server specification does not say a micro server has to be based on any particular processor, and it stands to reason that multicore chips from Tilera and various ARM Cortex-A15 chips will find their way into these small machines in short order, alongside low-powered and inexpensive chips from Intel and AMD.

Tyan has built a prototype micro server chassis that will support blades based on Xeon E3 or AMD Athlon/Phenom processors, which packs up to 18 server nodes into a 4U chassis:

Tyan Micro Server chassis

The Atom-based SM10000-64 server from upstart SeaMicro is a micro server of sorts, but it takes integration down to a lower level than the SSI spec and chip makers Intel and AMD. The SeaMicro server nodes are based on the 64-bit, two-core Atom N570; four nodes are packed into a space that is 5in x 11in, with each node having access to 4GB of memory. That's the upper limit of the wires on the N570 chip, not a reflection of its bitness:

 SeaMicro N570 server board

SeaMicro crams 256 of these server nodes into a 10U chassis, which links the nodes together in an in-chassis 3D torus Ethernet network implemented on a custom ASIC. So is a load balancer to distribute workloads across the nodes. Like thus:

SeaMicro SM10000 Side View

There are switch modules in the chassis to link the nodes to the outside world, and in this regard, the SeaMicro SM10000-64 is more like a blade server than a micro server.

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