Cutting a Good Figure

Years ago, I needed to fit two computers on a manager's desktop with room for only one.

Making a trip to an electronics store, I bought special extension cords for the keyboards and monitors, which allowed me to put the computer chassis in a cabinet, tidily out of the way. I couldn't help wishing I could run the wires all the way from the manager's office to the MIS department, keeping the computers in a secured area where they could be quickly fixed whenever anything went wrong. Alas, no extension cords could be made long enough and still keep the analog signals from degrading.

Fast forward to the present. A few days ago, I sat in an office running programs on a PC while the CPU box sat in a room on the other side of the building, thanks to ClearCube Technology's patented solution to the long wire problem. The company's C3 architecture worked so well, the computer may as well have been sitting on my desk.

ClearCube calls its C3 Architecture CPU box a "Blade" - a good name for it, since it's long and thin and sits in a rack as snugly as a blade in a Swiss army knife.

It's easy to imagine the main advantages of this system. Most importantly, it provides physical security for the CPU Blades. It also maximizes uptime by allowing MIS shops to keep the Blades close to support personnel.

There are other, less obvious advantages. In my case, having all the CPU boxes in one room results in substantial savings in air conditioning costs. And I can save money and guard against data loss by buying a few large uninterruptible power supplies for the system.

There are also some obvious disadvantages: Although these uninterruptible power supplies would protect data, they would not keep the monitors and keyboards running.

Another drawback is a lack of user-accessible floppy and CD-ROM drives. Two Universal Serial Bus ports on the front of the Blades will support standard floppy and CD-ROM drives, which is at least a partial solution, although users still don't have direct access to these drives from their desktops.

Behind the monitor is a small black box called the Command Port. The monitor, keyboard and mouse plug into this box, which has a wire running back to a Blade in another room. You can also attach a sound system to the Command Port.

The cable from the Command Port to a Blade is a standard Category 5 cable, which can reach more than 650 feet from the desktop to the Blade. The Blade also comes with integrated 10/100 megabits/sec Ethernet so that the computers are easily networked together at the rack.

Most of the chips on the motherboard appear to be standard. The processor on my system was an Intel Pentium III in a standard Socket 370, and the chipset was the Intel 82810E. The standard hard drive is 10G, although the Blade can fit any size hard drive.

Because the Blade is only 5.25 inches high, internal space is tight - there's room for only one hard drive and no expansion slots. The unit comes standard with 64M of installed memory, expandable to 512M, and features an integrated soundboard and a 4M Accelerated Graphics Port graphics card.

Although the cooling fans are in the central cage holding the Blades, each Blade has its own built-in power supply. This means that when a power failure occurs, one Blade has to be replaced. Each cage holds up to eight Blades, and up to 12 of the cages can be placed into a 19-inch rack, providing a total of 96 Blades in less than a foot and a half of space. Replacing Blades takes only seconds, although it would be advisable to keep them well labeled so you know you're replacing the right one.

The Command Ports, Blades and cages are proprietary, but just about everything else in ClearCube's C3 Architecture uses standard, off-the-shelf hardware.

Unlike thin-client solutions, ClearCube's solution requires no custom software and no licensing fees. The Blades come with the user's choice of all Windows flavors or Linux.

ClearCube C3 Architecture is not for power users who must have CD-ROM drives, tape backup systems and other gadgets built into their desktops. But it is a natural solution for call centers and other departments where the advantages of security, increased uptime and improved management outweigh the need for gadgets.

--Greer is a senior network analyst at a large Texas state agency. He can be reached at Earl.Greer@dhs.state.tx.us.

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