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back to article Dell taps VIA Nano chips for custom mini-servers

In the Web hosting world, you can charge a premium for customers who have dedicated servers. But Moore's Law and every-more powerful processors combined with server virtualization puts pressure on Web hosting companies to do shared servers for their clients because no modest Web customer can use a whole one-socket or two-socket …

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Love it!

If it can boot from iSCSI, I know I'll buy several of these, I run a test lab, and having individual machines will be so helpful. Virtual machines just have too many quirks, especially when they all share the same network connection, causing congestion and killing entire topologies with a single loose cable...

Stick them behind a load balancer and then spin up more as the need arises in case of an attack on a website or just a flood of users without having to power unnecessary hardware 24/7. And if a machine becomes compromised, just have the OS installed on a write-protected memory card and just reboot to fix the machine.

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Yes please

I currently run a co-located 1.2GHz VIA C7 in a half-depth 1U case. It's great. It takes about 20W at the mains (IIRC) and is far more reliable than the virtual machine that it replaced - the trouble with VMs is that there are lots of ways in which other users can slow the system down just when you need your share of the CPU. The other option I considered at the time was a mac mini: this should replace all of that, if the price is right.

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Other Nano form factors would be nice

Some of us would like a Home Server. A Nano motherboard in the MiniITX size, 1-2GB RAM, 2 laptop disks, 2*GbE. No fancy graphics. And quiet.

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Mini-ME

One of these units packaged appropriately would make a lovely home broadband WAN server for people like authors, freelancers etc. who need a Web presence but don't like the pain and grief of using an external hosting company and/or just want to have the hardware at home. Low power consumption for always-on operation, no moving parts with a small SSD = no noise and ruggedness when the cat knocks it off the shelf next to the broadband router. What's not to like?

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Step back to Cobalt days?

At first glance this sounds like a giant step back to the days of the Cobalt Raq. They were in large part killed by virtualisation (specifically in the form of VPS/VDS services like our Miniserver VM). These little boxes would only useful for dinosaur customers who refuse to believe in the security and viability of virtualisation.

Also:

"Dell can give hosting companies a 64-bit Nano server that has from 1 GB to 3 GB of main memory and that has an idle power draw of around 15 watts and that draws somewhere between 20 and 29 watts under peak loads. That is about one-tenth the power used by a standard two-socket 1U box that is not running at a particularly high utilization."

That is just, plain wrong. You have to go back 3 years to the days of Dual Xeon rack burners like the Dell SC1425 (165W idle, 230W full chat). That is not a good comparison with modern 1U machines, like the quad-core Dell PowerEdge R200/R300 which idles at 90W and is only 150W when thrashing the disks & CPU.

We will be getting some of these to play with / test, but in the mean time I would estimate that one them is about as much horsepower as a modern 1U quad core box. At high load capacity (which would be a 'mare to mange on these little blighters) 4 of them would use 120Watts, which is 75% of our trusty friend the quad core Dell R200/R300 at max load, but quite a bit more CapEx (you can get quad-core R200's with 8GB RAM and 2x1500GB disks for £700).

Also, I bet the embedded carbon of those is still a significant proportion of that for a normal 1U server since most of the energy-cost of a server is in making the chips! Green argument definitely does not seem to add up.

As for your statement, Chris, why are you fiddling about owning your own boxes at all?? Just rent VMs from the cloud a lot cheaper, more reliable, and no faffing with virtualisation systems (we do all that for you!). Of course, I suppose then you don't get to to fondle the shiny servers. Sorry. ;)

Kate.

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Kate Craig-Wood aka. Famed skydiving hosting-biz queenpin

MD, Memset Dedicated Hosting

http://kate.craig-wood.com

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SRS
Happy

For those reading Della

Big computers! They're like the little cute ones, except they're so totally not pink and don't fit into your life or your handbag.

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Boffin

What's nanoITX for then?

Er, Mr Prickett-Morgan and fellow commenters, have none of you heard of nanoITX? If you have, why isn't it suitable? It sure looks right on paper.

@Mini-Me: as well as nanoITX, how about buying a SoHo router or similar box with support for USB storage, reflashing it, and calling it your server. Works for folks I know, no Windows necessary, no Intel necessary...

WHERE'S THE ANALYSIS, EL REG? Can't you just send TPM back to play in the IT jungle?

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Paris Hilton

Step back to Cobalt days

Kate, as one of your customers I can say - you missed the point.

Different horsepower at stake here.

The NANO also has Crypto acceleration for AES. Firefox and IE now all have AES as standard so forcing it in the webserver as a preferred cipher should not be a problem. Via can deliver much higher secure web transaction rate than any of your Intel based hosting gear and it can hook up via a VPN to a back-office without the VPN incurring any overhead.

I have ran AES benchmarks with Via in the past and a measly 800MHz C5 (from 4 years back) was running circles around a 3GHz Dual Xeon and delivering roughly twice the AES rates.

As I actually use my VM for a VPN concentrator, if I had the option of replacing my memset VM with a via, I would definitely consider it. So should anyone running a small secure website.

Paris, to signify our dear Memset CEO having a blond moment.

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Not for everyone

I would agree that it makes more sense to use a bigger more efficient server and partition it for general purpose hosting, however there are a number of sectors where for legal or contractual reasons one customer's data must be physically separated from other customers' data.

At the moment we have a number of clients who have been given the legal recommendation of physically separated servers. These are usually full size 1U boxes chewing up a not insignificant amount of power for what they are doing (i.e. never fully loaded). The crypto acceleration angle is also interesting because these kind of sites do require SSL and VPN.

Not for everyone, but it will be interesting to see what happens if they become available for general release.

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Boffin

Still confused as to why any virtualisation is needed?

You say they want the virtualisation capability for image management? That's a bit of a sledgehammer for a nut approach - just use an image deployment tool. Most datacenters used to use something like Altiris or the old RLX Control Tower software to deploy the base ESX server for all the old VMware farms, such software would do the job as well if not better than using an image management tool from from a virtualisation package. I'm betting it would be quite trivial for Intel to include PXE boot capability into Atom-based servers to allow remote deployment without the need for a virtualisation layer. Sounds like a bit of feature selling to me.

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CPU is not the limiting factor

@Anton No, I'm not confused, and my point still stands; these things are redundant in the age of virtualisation maturity.

Having spoken to Dell it does appear that they are aiming these boxes at corporates who are phobic about sharing their precious tin with other users; I guess there will always be a market for people with an intractable belief that you should run one app per server.

As for them running a more useful chipset for hosting type tasks, well that is a step in the right direction, but again I cannot see how these would be more efficient than normal x86 chipsets. Sure we don't need all that floating point processing ability for most tasks, but we don't use Niagara chipsets either because CPU is not the limiting factor!

Earlier today we release an inside look at our own virtualisation strategy, which is rather pertinent to this debate:

http://www.memset.com/news.php#inside-vm

Have a look at that, and at Amazon's EC2 instances, and you'll see that - for now - CPU is not what is in demand. Moore's law has been applied so relentlessly to CPU that there is now an abundance, and what we need is more RAM and more disk I/O TPS.

Kate.

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