RLX trims blade servers, considers Intel

RLX Technologies started selling a new blade server Tuesday that allows users to take advantage of the company's tightly packed server architecture in a smaller system design. In addition, the company is likely to begin using low-power processors from Intel along with the Transmeta processors it uses now, according to a source familiar with RLX's plans.

RLX is one of the few companies that actually has a blade server on the market, and it has been tapped by IBM Corp. as a partner in the blade server space. By using a blade architecture, companies can fit many times more servers in a standard rack. The space-saving features of blades can particularly help customers that lease space for their servers, because they can put more processing power in a smaller area and pay less rent.

The company will continue to offer its 3U (5.25 inches or 13.3 centimeters thick) System 324 product, but will now also sell a 1U (1.75 inches thick) product called System 1U. The System 324 unit holds up to 24 server blades per 3U chassis, while the System 1U product will fit up to 6 blades in the smaller 1U chassis.

The company found that some customers were not using all the slots available in the System 324 and wanted a smaller configuration as an option, said Emil Sayegh, director of product marketing at RLX. The product will begin shipping this month for US$999 per chassis.

RLX currently puts 633MHz Crusoe processors from Transmeta in its blade product, but it will start offering Intel-based servers as well, according to the source. The chip is likely to be one of the 0.13-micron Pentium III chips Intel will be demonstrating at the Comdex trade show next week, the source said.

Although Transmeta once had a large lead in the blade space with power-saving chips, the company is now facing increasing competition as Intel also has developed chips that use less power.

"Transmeta only offered a little bit of power saving vs. Intel, but they marketed it as a lot of power savings," said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64 in Saratoga, California.

Manufacturers found that Transmeta did not save as much power as hoped, just as Intel was updating its processor road map, making the market ripe for a move back to Intel, Brookwood said.

"Be they mobile system suppliers or server systems suppliers, (they) have to ask 'why go with an unproven alternative when you can go with Intel?'" he said.

Nonetheless, one customer has been impressed with the cost savings he achieved with the Transmeta-based product and sees no immediate need for a new processor option.

"We have been very pleased with the RLX products because they let us take servers out of our data center and shrink our footprint," said Dwight Gibbs, chief technology officer at The Motley Fool Inc.

Although Gibbs doubted whether RLX will scale up to handle a database application anytime soon, he did say the servers work well as Web servers and mail servers and for handling intrusion detection systems.

The Motley Fool did experience some brief compatibility problems with the Transmeta chip set when installing the servers, but RLX worked to fix the problem in a relatively short period of time, Gibbs said.

RLX recently laid off part of its workforce and admitted that a tough economic climate has slowed sales, but the company remains confident that it can weather the storm.

The company supports a variety of operating systems, including Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 2000 and Red Hat Linux 7.1.

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