Battle Lines

RLX begins web hosting assault

RLX Technologies this month fired the first salvo in what is shaping up to be a serious battle in the blade server market, when it formally shipped its groundbreaking new RLX System 324 Web server.

Built around RLXs ServerBlade technology, the System 324 server is eight times as dense, 10 times more power efficient and prone to generate five times more subscriber revenue than the typical server; one RLX server could replace eight standard servers made by market leaders Compaq Computer, Dell Computer or Sun Microsystems.

"Our product is aimed at being a Web server," says Mike Swavely, RLXs president and chief operating officer, as he held up a 15X5 server blade, a substitute for a standard 1U server.

Based in The Woodlands, Texas, RLX joins a growing list of companies that use tiny Transmeta chips to build "blade" servers — machines that hold several blades in an enclosure that fits in a standard rack.

The Transmeta chip allows three RLX blades to use less power than a 60-watt light bulb. Idle RLX servers draw less power than active ones, another energy-saving factor. RLX packs 24 blades into a 3U frame, betting that data center operators will prefer higher revenue potential and lower maintenance overhead over the brand recognition of manufacturers of inferior servers that currently dominate the market.

"Right now, there are four companies using Transmeta chips to build servers — RLX,, Fiber-Cycle Networks and Amphus," says Jay Stein, an analyst at E Source, pointing out that RLX is first to market with one of the densest boxes.

More traditional server companies such as Compaq have announced plans to deliver a blade product by the end of the year. And Analysts such as Stein expect more big players to jump into the fray.

Backed by the marketing might of IBM, which is also an investor, RLX is gearing up for the battle. The company wont give you its customer list even if you beg for it, but RLXs products — black servers emblazoned with the letter X — have been steadily popping up in various data centers for the last several weeks.

No Names, Please

"We are not naming customers — we are already getting a lot of attention from competition," Swavely says, referring to Compaqs announcement two weeks ago about its low-power, high-performance QuickBlade, a product perceived to be a direct shot at RLX. QuickBlade, which will use Intels Tualatin low-voltage processor, should ship in the second half of this year.

RLX servers were spotted at a recent visit to an Exodus Communications data center. Swavely confirmed that Exodus has looked at the server and certified it for deployment within its facilities. An Exodus spokeswoman said that the servers have been certified.

RLX could be IBMs ticket to getting into more data centers. "IBM is the largest server vendor and has been working to penetrate that space, but in the data center space you see Compaq and Sun pretty heavily," says John Humphreys, an analyst at IDC.

The IBM factor must be weighing heavily on RLX competitors, though managers say they wont speculate on what those competitors might do to block deployment of the blade ser-ver. But some pressure is likely to come through various strategic relationships that large vendors already have and RLX has yet to develop.

Also, data center operators have yet to form a universal opinion on issues related to deployment of such dense machines. Analysts say the management of an increased number of servers per data center square foot may be the next battleground.

"As you go from one server for every U to 10 servers for every U, that is an order of magnitude, and the headaches that that causes are going to be huge," Humphreys says.