RLX helps data centres with switch to blades

When Scott Schedler, chief financial officer at financial Web site The Motley Fool, discovered that RLX Technologies' new blade servers cut costs in the company's data centre by 60 per cent, he did the happy dance, says chief technology officer Dwight Gibbs.

"We had some issues with our setup," Gibbs says. "The footprint in the data centre was too large, and the [system] was [using] a lot of power. So we decided to look at new technology to address our problems."

Gibbs says start-up RLX was the only company shipping server blades when he made his decision. Thus, the vendor leapt ahead of industry heavyweights Compaq Computer and Hewlett-Packard, which have announced plans to ship similar products late this year.

On the Leading Edge

A server blade is a complete computing system that integrates processors, memory and I/O functions on a single circuit board. Server blades that fit into the RLX System 324 chassis measure just 4.7 in. high, .58 in. wide and 14.7 in. deep. RLX uses Transmeta's low-power Crusoe microprocessor in its design.

Founded last year, RLX has already garnered $US59 million in funding no mean feat in the current market and has a seasoned management team that includes Compaq Computer founder Gary Stimac as CEO.

RLX is focusing first on the Web server market, targeting Web hosting companies and Internet data centres, says Michael Swavely, president and chief operating officer. RLX claims to have more than a dozen customers but declines to name them for competitive reasons.

RLX can fit 336 server blades in one rack vs. 42 in a standard configuration. Each blade uses 15 watts of power at peak performance (vs. 75 watts for a traditional server) and delivers five to 10 times more efficiency than other Web servers, says Swavely. RLX's servers generate 80 per cent less heat than standard servers, so they require less air conditioning and backup power, in part because of the Crusoe chip, he claims.

Web hosting firms and Internet data centres, including Internet service providers, application service providers, hosting and co-location companies, content-distribution companies and online businesses, are prime targets for RLX's server-blade technology, according to Swavely.

Cost-Cutters

With the cost of data centres averaging $300 per square foot, firms like The Motley Fool are trying to figure out how to fit more servers into less space, trim operating costs and increase revenue per square foot while still satisfying the needs of users.

And because of increased energy prices, these businesses are also under pressure to decrease power consumption. As far as The Motley Fool is concerned, RLX's new servers did just that, Gibbs says.

"Using these servers allows us to shrink our footprint [in the data centre] and put more CPUs in a smaller space," Gibbs says. "So if we can decrease the square footage and lower power use, we can decrease our costs. And the pricing is also very attractive."

RLX's servers are also easier to maintain than others, according to Gibbs.

"There's not a whole lot of spare parts," he says. "And we need less manpower [to maintain them]. With two [rounds of] layoffs, that was important."

RLX will face competition from larger, more established server vendors by year's end, but the blade-server pioneer says it isn't standing still. "RLX is already planning second-generation solutions," reports RLX spokesman Bob Beach.

Time will tell whether innovation will be enough to keep RLX ahead of the server industry's leaders.

Leading the Pack

International Data Corp. (IDC) expects 2001 to be the year ultrathin server blades gain acceptance in the market. But while other hardware vendors say they're planning to ship such products, RLX was the first to do so, says IDC analyst Mark Melenovsky.

"RLX moved quickly with the RLX System 324 Web server to address the growing demand," says IDC analyst John Humphreys. "With its focus on Web hosting companies and Internet data centres and the fact that it alleviates the critical density and power issues facing these customers RLX has positioned itself as a leader in the blade market."

In order to remain a leader, RLX must expand its product beyond Internet data centres and Web hosting companies, says Melenovsky.

According to RLX COO Michael Swavely, the company's goal is to build on its market leadership position in server blades to make inroads into the larger server market.

Although no other company is yet shipping a server-blade product based on a low-power chip, RLX's potential competitors include the following:

Nexcom International

Taipei, Taiwan.

Nexcom's HiServer blade servers, which are already shipping, function as Web, firewall, e-mail and video-broadcasting servers. However, they use existing processors from Intel and Cyrix rather than low-power chips.

Compaq

Compaq and chip maker Intel are building an ultradense server code-named QuickBlade. The server will use Intel's new Tualatin ultralow-voltage processors and will ship later this year.

Hewlett-Packard

HP's blade servers are scheduled to ship in the fourth quarter. HP is focusing the design of its blade servers around the CompactPCI architecture and will sell them to telecommunications providers, other service providers and enterprises.

RLX Technologies

Niche: Ultrathin rack-mounted blade Web servers that conserve power and space.

Company officers:

-- Gary Stimac, CEO,

-- Michael Swavely, president and COO,

-- Mike Perez, vice president of technology,-- Christopher Hipp, chief technology officer and co-founder.

Milestones:

-- November 2000: Company founded,

-- May 2001: RLX System 324 Web server ships, -- September 2001: RLX Control Tower server management software introduced.

Employees: 100.

Burn money: $59 million from Soros Private Equity Partners IBM, Ignition, Sternhill Partners, ComVentures and RLX's management team.

Products/pricing: An RLX System 324 chassis with six ServerBlades is $6,999; a full chassis with 24 ServerBlades is $26,511, including management software.

Customers: The Motley Fool, plus more than a dozen others.

Partners: Transmeta, Microsoft and Red Hat.

Red flags for IT:

-- RLX may lose its early lead once larger competitors ship similar products later this year.

-- Its initial products are designed just for Web server functions.

CHANNEL CHOICE: Vote Now for your favourite in the three categories: Vendor, Distributor and Reseller. Voting closes August 8.

More about CompaqCompaq ComputerComVenturesCyrixHewlett-PackardHIS LimitedHPIBMIDCIgnitionIntelMicrosoftMotley FoolNexcomPioneerPLUSRed HatRLXRLX TechnologiesSoros Private Equity PartnersSternhill PartnersTransmeta

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