Dynamic Net, a managed Web-hosting provider in Brooks County, Pennsylvania, faced a density problem. Like many companies, Dynamic Net rents or “collocates space for” its servers at a third-party data center. “As anyone in this business knows, collocation fees are based on rack space and connectivity,” says Dynamic Nets CEO, Peter Abraham. “Regardless of how many servers can fit in a single rack, the rack fees stay the same; you pay per rack, not per server.”
Dynamic Net had a mix of servers, mostly 4U devices. But the company could fit only ten 4U servers in a single 42U rack, and the large servers needed constant processor and RAM upgrades as the company added customers. (A U is an Electronic Industries Alliance standard unit; each U equals 1.75 inches in height.)
To bring his collocation costs under control, Abraham switched to 1U servers in September 2002. “We gained everything and lost nothing by going from 4U to 1U,” he says, noting that his firm can now fit up to 42 servers with 84 processors in a single rack, as opposed to 10 4U servers with 20 processors on a rack. His firm can still run everything it needs on the 1U servers, including Web hosting, e-mail hosting, spam prevention, and antivirus features. And even with a small 1U form factor, each server can support 500 customers, versus 200 customers under the old setup.
Abrahams experience is not unusual. As people continue to do business online—both internal operations and e-commerce—data centers have to run more applications: everything from Web servers, cache servers, and firewalls to e-commerce, database applications, messaging, ERP, and CRM. To handle the demand, jam-packed data centers had to find a way to fit more server power into a smaller space.
In answer to the increasing burden, Network Engines created the 1U server in 1998. The first 1U boxes to market were sleek and thin but didnt pack much punch; they were best suited for Web serving, Web caching, and DNS. (Web page requests and DNS can be serviced quickly with little power, which suited these 1U boxes.)
It was also easy to add more servers in a load-balanced server farm configuration. Load balancers, which come as either hardware or software, would distribute requests among the servers based on availability. If a server failed or had to be taken down for any reason, a load balancer had the intelligence to redistribute requests among the remaining servers. Unfortunately, the first 1Us didnt provide much storage capacity, but additional storage was available by adding external RAID boxes or even a shared Fibre Channel storage area network (SAN).
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