Facebook gives the nod to Intel micro servers over virtualization

Low-powered, dense Intel Xeon and Atom micro servers may win out over virtual machines in Internet company data centers

It's 2011, and server virtualization is still a hot topic and a common building block for migration into the cloud. But virtualization isn't a silver bullet designed to solve all data center problems, and there are companies out there turning to alternative solutions.

Last week, Intel held a briefing in San Francisco to discuss their plans for such an alternative. The chip manufacturing giant talked about how not all server workloads are 24/7 intensive number crunching, and therefore don't necessarily need racks of power-hungry, multisocket servers. Industries working within an Internet-based data center need a solution that is able to meet the challenge of handling millions of relatively small, independent tasks like those associated with serving email, Web pages, search, and social networking.

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To meet that challenge, Intel is working on a series of processors aimed at an emerging category of data center computers known as micro servers, a concept the company introduced back in 2009. These high-density systems are small-form-factor, low-power servers that pack lots of server nodes into a single chassis, making them more dense than standard rack or blade servers. These micro servers will typically share power and cooling systems, resulting in reduced overall power consumption. They may also share storage and network connections as well.

Manufacturers such as Dell, Seamicro, and Tyan have adopted the micro server architecture. The new form factor has proven itself quite popular among large Internet companies, large cloud service providers, and businesses building their own public cloud computing environments. Besides reducing power consumption, these systems also make it possible to spread an application across multiple nodes, so that if and when a server goes down, that workload can automatically migrate to another node without sacrificing application performance.

Facebook is one such company interested in micro server technology -- so much so that it's already begun testing them in production within the company's massive data centers. Intel believes the social networking giant is a good example of the type of environment that micro server technology can best address because of Facebook's Internet model and lots of short- timeframe data connections. Gio Coglitore, director of Facebook Labs, agreed and said that his company began looking at micro servers as an alternative solution to virtualization for its front-end workloads.

According to Coglitore, the social network company looked for alternatives because it found that putting Facebook technology into virtual machines within a large-scale environment didn't provide the economic returns it expected, and the cost of dealing with hardware failures was too high.

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