The Via Nano not only offered low power consumption, but also could handle 64-bit applications and had hardware-based virtualization capabilities. At full power, the system consumes 20 to 29 watts of power; in idle mode, that drops to 15 watts, significantly less than a standard server, he said.
Because of this, Dell can fit 12 servers-each complete with such features as their own memory, hard drive and two Gigabit Ethernet NICs (network interface cards)-into a 2U (3.5-inch) chassis that gives the systems shared power and cooling.
"We can come in to a relatively power-constrained rack [environment] and can consolidate seven racks of their current [servers] down into one of these," Schulke said. "It was a pretty easy decision to go with [the Via Nano]."
He said Dell has been working with five Web hosting companies on the development of the system, and expects there are 30 to 40 such businesses worldwide that could take advantage of it.
Power and cooling have been increasingly thorny issues in the data center as smaller and more powerful systems have been more tightly packed into facilities.
RLX Technologies first tried addressing the problem earlier this decade with the first blade servers, at the time powered by Transmeta's low-power chips. Both companies have since vanished.
Intel, AMD, Sun Microsystems and IBM all have been trying to boost the power and performance of their chips, and systems makers are looking to take advantage of those processors.
On May 4, Super Micro Computer announced it was putting Intel's Atom chip-developed initially for such client products as netbooks-into several new systems in its Server Building Block Solutions portfolio. The offerings can be used as either servers or customized motherboards.
Dell officials said the goal of their Data Center Solutions group is to ensure that they get the best solutions to their customers, which regularly calculate costs of necessities such as power and cooling to the penny and are looking for products that drive down overall costs.
"We could lose a deal [based] on a single watt," Schulke said.
Via's Wu said her company made sure that such enterprise needs as 64-bit capabilities and hardware-based virtualization were including in the Nano, but did not ramp up the power footprint of the chip.