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A Web Server That Will Fit in Your Pocket

Dell has been a notoriously loyal Intel customer, but today it went way off the beaten path with the introduction of Web servers based on VIA Technologies' Nano processor. The Nano, usually used in netbooks or embedded systems, turned out to be just the ticket for this specific server need.

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) said it had been approached by large customers in the Web hosting space asking for consumer-facing Web servers that didn't draw a lot of power and need only a fraction of the processing power typically found in servers.

"This is not an overly taxing workload. As Moore's Law took off and compute power took off, they were stranding compute cycles and buying servers that were overperforming for the task at hand," Drew Schulke, product marketing manager in Dell's datacenter solutions division, told InternetNews.com.

A Xeon from Intel (NASDAQ: INTC) or Opteron from AMD (NYSE: AMD) was pretty much overkill. These high-performance processors would often run at single-digit utilization on Web servers since most of their work was I/O related, and even the low-power versions of these server processors, which can get down to 40 watts, was too much.

Dell's goal was a server that consumed a maximum of 30 watts, total. That's what it got in the XS11-VX8, the formal name for the Nano-based server.

"We got there with the Nano, and that's at full load. The idle power on these swings down to 15 watts," Schulke said.

What Dell also liked about the Nano is that it still has enterprise features that Intel's Atom doesn't have, such as support for 64-bit operating systems and hardware-based virtualization.

Just two weeks ago, the first Atom server was announced by Taiwan OEM Supermicro. It's a rack-mounted server meant for low-power uses, similar to the XS-11-VX8.

The servers are not much bigger than a 3.5-inch hard drive. A dozen can be fit into a 2U rack mount chassis. They come with a maximum of 3GB of memory, room for a 2.5-inch drive plus an iSCSI connector and two 1Gigabit Ethernet ports.

The line is not generally available, however. It is for a limited number of accounts, around 40 worldwide, sold directly by Dell.

"The customers we target buy in the volume to justify it. We've built product for a single customer before and done so profitably," Schulke said.