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Quanta taps Mellanox for snappy interconnects

Storming America with whitebox servers

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Quanta QCT, the server and storage manufacturing arm of $37bn Taiwanese giant Quanta Computer, is teaming up with Mellanox Technologies to weave its network gadgetry into its various wares as it takes on the whitebox incumbents here in the United States.

In case you don't know it, Quanta is one of the people the hyperscale data center operators go to when they want really dirt cheap and sometimes custom motherboards or servers.

The company is also one of the largest manufacturers of laptops on the planet, and manufactures machines on behalf of the tier players that basically slap their names on those laptops and pretend they're the manufacturer. This makes Quanta Computer one of the largest original design manufacturers, or ODMs, on the planet.

Given Quanta's rising importance in the server biz, you can understand why the company wants to partner with Mellanox, which owns the bit of the InfiniBand adapter and switch ASIC market that is not controlled by Intel at the moment.

Mellanox also has ConnectX-3 cards that provide Ethernet ports for servers, and its SwitchX chips are also at the heart of Ethernet switches as well as InfiniBand gear. And with Mellanox promising to one day make the adapters and switch ASICs be able to run both protocols simultaneously, and with hyperscale cloud providers no doubt wanting to be able to support Ethernet or InfiniBand on the fly as workloads change, it makes sense for Quanta to get the inside track on what is being developed at Mellanox.

But this deal is about making whitebox servers and switches. Quanta QCT is based in Fremont, California, and sells motherboards and whitebox servers under the Stratos brand, storage arrays under the Mesos brand, and Gigabit and 10 Gigabit Ethernet switches under the Tropos brand.

At the moment, Quanta QCT has two-socket servers based on Intel's Xeon E5-2400 chip (the S200 series) and E5-2600 chip (the S210 series), as well as four-socket boxes based on the Xeon E5-4600s (the S400 series). The company also will make you a two-socket box that uses AMD's Opteron 6200 processors (the S215 series), and has a hyperscale box that stuffs four half-width Xeon E5-2400 nodes in a 2U rack chassis with a dozen disks on the front.

Quanta QCT jumped into the US market back in May, and is riffing off the Open Compute Project started up by Facebook last year. The idea is similar to the approach that Dell took with its cloudy servers, offering bespoke machines to a select group of customers through its Data Center Solutions unit and then eventually selling a few designs based on the bespoke boxes to a larger group of customers as quasi-commercial PowerEdge-C machines.

Quanta does the bespoke manufacturing on a large scale, and Quanta QCT is aimed at the customers who might otherwise go to Super Micro or any number of smaller whitebox system makers for gear.

According to sources at Mellanox, Quanta QCT does not currently use Mellanox silicon in its Tropos switches, but now will be able to either get complete switches that it can rebadge from Mellanox (as funny as that may sound), or get SwitchX ASICs and related switch operating systems from the company to make its own switches that will compete against Mellanox, ironically enough. (It would not be surprising to see a deal reverse, with the parent Quanta becoming the manufacturer of Mellanox switches some day.) Similarly, Quanta QCT will be able to buy and rebrand ConnectX-3 adapters or get ConnectX-3 silicon if it chooses to make its own network adapter cards.

Making its own QCT-branded network cards is not out of the realm of possibility, by the way. Quanta QCT's predecessor in Taiwan, called QSSC, inked a deal to use QLogic's NX301 silicon in its TG20 dual-port 10GE Ethernet adapters three years ago.

It's not clear what the relationship is between Quanta QCT and Intel at this time. But it is a safe bet that Chipzilla wants Quantum QCT pushing Intel Xeons and Fulcrum Ethernet and QLogic InfiniBand chips, not AMD processors and Mellanox networking silicon. But Quanta is big enough to do what it wants in PCs and will probably soon be in servers, too. It is amazing that the parent company hasn't bought Super Micro already, and given time, it may just do that.

For the moment, Quanta wants to differentiate itself not only with whitebox iron, but also with a total-solution sell. A month ago, at the Computex 2012 trade show in Taipei, Quanta QCT showed off a private cloud based on Stratos servers, Mesos storage, and Tropos switches running Microsoft's forthcoming Windows Server 2012 and related Hyper-V hypervisor and Systems Center 2012 management tools. We now know Windows Server 2012 is due in September, as was announced at Microsoft's Worldwide Partners Conference in Toronto on Tuesday. ®

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