Fabric 7: Servers of a different cloth
Weaving a tale of high speed Unix boxes
With the consolidation not just of servers in the data centre but also of server manufacturers, you might be forgiven for thinking that, when it comes to servers, the vendors on your short list can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
But there's a new kid on the block -- Fabric 7 -- which is selling innovative high-speed servers -- what it calls "a fundamentally new design to integrate network and computing capabilities in a distributed fabric of IT resources."
And, in six months' time or less, Fabric 7 plans to start selling its mid-range, high-speed Linux boxes in the UK. So what's to look out for?
The Q160 - Fabric 7's flagship box - is aimed at data centres and contains up to 14 AMD Opterons and 176GB RAM. It's accompanied by the Q80, essentially a smaller version using the same technology but with a maximum of eight Opterons.
Focusing on the fabric, what's new about the company's boxes is that they use a single, proprietary interconnect technology between the components requiring high speed internal connections, and between the systems themselves.
President and CEO Sharad Mehrotra described the philosophy behind the products. "Server design is not just about processor and memory -- I/O is a very important part," he said.
"We've taken a leaf out of mainframe architectures to deliver high speed I/O, along with hardware partitioning -- not like VMware -- which is used for higher end Unix machines. For example, the Q80 is equivalent to a superior eight-way IBM x4600."
For Mehrotra, "the big breakthrough is our use of very advanced networking concepts such as you'll find in Cisco or Juniper routers or high-end switches. That's our IP, along with the partitioning, management and deployment in lights out scenarios.
"Built in networking means that larger fabrics are easy to build -- you just interconnect them with Gigabit or 10Gigabit Ethernet and we virtualise the connections. It's easy to manage from a single point.
"This means the machines have no geographical limits, and can connect across data centres."
Mehrotra said he wasn't aiming at the high performance computing market as used by data-intensive industries such as petro-chemical and financial companies, but for the Fortune 1000.
"We want to help customers move away from expensive, single vendor Unix boxes," he said.
With no reference sites yet to judge the effectiveness of a new approach up against the oligarchy of market leaders such as IBM, HP, Sun and others, it's hard to judge just how good the company's technology is in the real world.
But Mehrotra is convinced that the company's strategy can work.
He described what made him set up the company.
"We saw three key trends," he said, "and called them before most of the industry. First was 64-bit x86 processing as the de facto standard over the next decade. Almost everything is x86 now and there's no other processor design that can challenge x86 in terms of volume.
"Second is Gigabit Ethernet which has the same role as x86 in the network industry. Volume is all -- plus 10Gig Ethernet is just happening.
"And finally, the wide deployment of Linux in smaller servers plus the maturing of Windows NT and Server 2003."
And the criteria for success?
"Sun has Galaxy and Sparc but has validated our strategy while IBM has a bigger x86 machine that isn't selling well above four sockets. All the market leaders -- HP, Dell, IBM and Sun -- do a good job at and below that level with Linux.
"Above that, the market is rarefied -- no-one is trying what Unisys did with the $1m machine. So we're positioned not as competitors but in competition with mid range Unix against Windows, Linux, and Solaris 10.
"It's a $20-billion market and a small slice of that would do very nicely."