SeaMicro: The Right Cloud Server at the Right Time

SeaMicro’s server reveal this week reverberated across three distinct groups of techies: the green IT crowd, cloud computing devotees and computer server market watchers. Not that they’re mutually exclusive, but it’s rare to get all three to sit up and take notice at once. How did SeaMicro pull it off? With some innovative thinking and good timing.

SeaMicro’s low-power server, the SM10000, arrives at a crossroads in the computer industry: Demand for cloud computing centers keeps growing along with the energy required to operate them. Sure, IBM, HP, Dell and other server makers have jumped on the cloud bandwagon, but instead of helping their enterprise customers transition to a low-power, cloud-enabled future, they’re hellbent on delivering “cloud solutions” anchored on tweaked versions of their existing server, storage and networking products.

Not SeaMicro. The company ditched the typical volume server architecture and instead outfitted its system with 512 Intel Atom processors, the same chips that help netbooks give their owners several hours of computing time between battery charges. Along with some dynamic workload management, the system can deliver web pages and other non-compute-intensive functions typical of many web services without the electrical or cooling overhead of high-performance server chips. After all, why use a supercomputer when a pocket calculator will do?

By SeaMicro’s reckoning, its server can save businesses anywhere from just over $1 million to nearly $3 million in energy costs (depending on CPU utilization) over four years vs. a comparable Dell server setup. It’s an impressive return on the server’s $139,000 starting price, even if those estimates fall on the optimistic side. It also doesn’t hurt that the SM10000 arrives as web giants grapple with climbing energy costs and an increased awareness of the Internet’s (growing) impact on global carbon emissions.

For more on my thoughts on SeaMicro, and its place in the competitive server market, check out this week’s update on GigaOM Pro (subscription required).