The ingenuity of server designers is pretty impressive when you think about it. We've seen generations of architectural design from the mainframe through the minicomputer and Unix server to today's hugely popular x86 machines. In terms of format, we've gone from pedestal-mounted monoliths to racks, and then blades you could shave with by adding a lather of soap. But here's one I hadn't thought of: the physically virtualised server.
Server maker Rackable Systems is introducing what it says is a datacentre-orientated line of systems that provides a cheaper option for firms pursuing virtualisation.
Today, if you're virtualising servers in order to save costs, boost utilisation and consolidate servers and datacentres, you're probably going to be using software from VMware or else a rival like Microsoft, Citrix, Parallels or Red Hat to carve up virtual servers from one physical box. Rackable is turning this principle on its head by physically carving up the hardware, using an architecture it calls MicroSlice.
MicroSlice uses low-cost components and small-format Micro-ATX and Mini-ITX motherboards that were designed principally for PCs, in order to create servers at what it promises to be a low price point (four fifths off a conventional server!) without chewing up too much valuable datacentre real estate. The real saving, it claims, is the money you don't have to spend on "very expensive third-party software".
It's a cunning plan but I wonder if the premise of there always being "very expensive third-party software" was factored in months or even years back at the design stage. OK, so VMware's top-end products are not cheap but the price points are moving at warp speed in virtualisation because of factors such as hardware assistance (CPU, BIOS etc), embedding in operating systems, and good old-fashioned market forces as big, established enterprise software companies stomp in looking for market share.
Also, a large part of the appeal of virtualisation software is the ability to layer over a range of underlying systems from multiple vendors. The Rackable solution is ingenious but I'm not convinced it will have the software behemoths quaking in their boots, especially as prices continue to head south.