Startup SeaMicro makes servers, but it really specializes in minimalism.
The company has created an energy-efficient server that consists largely of three parts: Intel Atom processors, memory, and a networking/controller chip that the company designed that lets all of the components communicate through the magic of multidimensional geometry. A single server contains 512 Atoms and gobs of memory, but the number of different classes of parts is relatively small.
The unusual architecture means that you can't use a SeaMicro system for things like weather modeling. Instead, it's optimized for web traffic.
"We've reduced 90 percent of the components," said CEO Andrew Feldman during a breakfast sponsored by the SD Forum in San Francisco today. "The server draws about one-fourth of the power of a regular server."
He wouldn't identify customers, but told me that "you use them [SeaMicro customers] every day."
This stock car approach of ripping out everything but the essentials could become more popular as time goes on. Data centers are slated to increase in size as corporations and individuals increasingly shift toward videoconferencing and online shopping. To curb power, IT managers will have to shift toward more energy-efficient chips and servers.
Oracle's Murkesh Khattar, for instance, noted that typical Intel-based servers run at 90-percent-power levels when only churning at 50 percent of their computing capacity and churn at 80 percent power levels when in sleep states, i.e., performing almost no computing functions at all. Feldman said that general purpose servers are like 18-wheel trucks, and you don't take 18-wheelers to do your grocery shopping.
"We don't go cross-country a lot," he said. "We need to optimize for little workloads."
Higher utilization, more efficient processors, redesigned servers, better air conditioners, and other changes are likely on the way. Google started this trend back in the early part of the decade when it decided to design its own servers with features like hard drives that attached to motherboards with Velcro for quick swaps.
Google has succeeded, electricity prices have risen and so everyone is sniffing about for answers.
--Coda Automotive delayed the release of its all-electric car from a few weeks from now until the third quarter of 2011. The company made the announcement on the eve of the L.A. Auto Show. On November 7, former CEO Kevin Czinger abruptly resigned.
--Telvent, which provides software to utilities, announced an alliance with Microsoft under which Telvent will adopt Microsoft's cloud computing architecture. Yes, alliances occur daily, but both are big names in their respective fields and it underscores the ongoing courtship between traditional power and computing power.
--Think, the Norwegian electric car maker that grew out of a project started eons ago by Ford Motor Company, confirmed that it will bring some cars to the U.S. this year. The sales price will be $34,000 before incentives, according to Plug-in Cars. That makes it less than the Chevy Volt ($41,000) and the Coda sedan ($45,000) and only slightly more than the Nissan Leaf ($33,000).
The downside? The Think is the only two-seater of the bunch. Still, the price has come down. Back in 2008, before Think halted production, the sales price tipped in at around $44,000. Ener1 makes the batteries.
--Finally, Lilliputian Systems said it signed a wafer supply agreement with Intel and landed an equity investment from Intel Capital. Founded in 2002 from research conducted at MIT, Lilliputian tries to combine silicon economics and fuel cells. But, like fuel cell makers everywhere, the company has probably developed more prototypes than actual products. Butane, the same fluid used in disposable lighters, is Lilliputian's fuel of choice.