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Dell resells SeaMicro 'Atom smasher' servers

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SeaMicro, the upstart maker of Atom-based microservers, has a new salesperson: server rival Dell.

The companies have not made a formal announcement, but Armando Acosta, product manager for Dell's PowerEdge C cloudy infrastructure server line, confirms that the companies signed a reseller agreement back in May and Dell is starting to peddle the SeaMicro boxes now. "It's strictly a reseller agreement, which is why we didn't make a big deal about it," Acosta tells El Reg.

It may not be a big deal to Dell, which is the third largest supplier of servers in the world ranked by revenue, behind IBM and Hewlett-Packard, but it is pretty significant seal of approval for the SeaMicro design and its place for certain kinds of processing jobs.

According to Acosta, the reseller agreement covers only the SeaMicro SM10000-64 server, which was announced in February and which packs 256 of Intel's dual-core, 64-bit Atom N570 processors in a 10U rack-mounted chassis. Dell is not peddling the older and original SM10000 servers, launched in June 2010, which makes sense because these machines only supported 2GB of memory per server node and only ran 32-bit code. Dell is also not reselling the SM10000-64HD, a denser machine sporting 384 of the dual-core Atom N570s that debuted back in July.

To a certain way of thinking about it, SeaMicro is more of a networking interconnect vendor than it is a server vendor. The heart of the SeaMicro systems is an interconnection fabric that implements a 3D torus fabric, which is etched onto SeaMicro's homegrown ASIC. This chip also virtualizes disk and network accesses for the Atom servers in the chassis; a separate FPGA in the system has been programmed to do load balancing across the nodes. The machine is, for all intents and purposes, its own baby data center, and an energy efficient one at that.

A 512-core SM10000-64 with 1TB of memory costs $165,000 at list price from SeaMicro, while the SM10000-64HD with 1.5TB of memory costs $237,000 and offers roughly 50 per cent more aggregate processing oomph. Dell is peddling the SeaMicro machine through its Data Center Solutions bespoke server unit, so there is no list price for it. Dell has not actually sold a box yet. "Right now, it is just a lot of conversations and we are starting to build traction," says Acosta.

Dell is not slapping its label on the machines or OEMing any of SeaMicro's technology. And there is no talk yet of Dell going all the way and buying SeaMicro, which would not be the dumbest thing in the world for Dell to do if it looks like the SM10000 series of machines is going to take off.

Moreover, it would not be surprising to see Dell pick up the manufacturing job for SeaMicro boxes in the event that the upstart server maker has volumes ramping faster than its manufacturing capability at its Sunnyvale, California headquarters. Then again, SeaMicro would probably just do what Facebook did to the Dell DCS unit: just cut out the middleman and go directly to Taiwanese PC and server maker Quanta Computer and have them build the boxes. ®

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