Because hardware is never 100 percent reliable, "enterprises spend a lot of time and money on maintenance," the Google blog post continues. "In contrast, we expect the hardware to fail, and design for reliability in the software such that, when the hardware does fail, customers are just shifted to another server. This allows us to further lower the cost of our servers by using commodity parts and on-board storage. We also design the systems for easy repair such that, if a part fails, we can quickly bring the server back into service."
While Google builds its own servers, systems vendors believe there is a great opportunity in selling stripped-down servers to the rest of the Internet world, and perhaps to enterprises running large datacenters.
IBM has the iDataPlex, which pushes two racks together, housing 84 servers and lowering costs by letting fans run at a lower speed and sharing power whips and cables. Scaling up simply requires purchasing another double-rack system, but Staten says IBM's approach is limiting in that it uses a unique rack and server form factor, preventing use of third-party hardware. Rackable, which is changing its name to SGI, is in the scale-out market with the ICE Cube containerized datacenter as well as the new CloudRack C2, a rack of servers designed for high density and energy efficiency.
Eunice says that Sun and Dell offer a few servers designed for large scale-out environments, but Staten points to Super Micro as being the furthest along technologically. Super Micro has built a "jigsaw motherboard" that can be reconfigured based on a specific customer's needs, Staten says.
If a customer doesn't need remote monitoring tools, or PCI slots, those components just get stripped away to reduce costs. "Based on specific requests, [Super Micro] can disassemble and reconfigure those jigsaw pieces into the kind of server motherboard a particular client wants, and then sell it to them in lots of 1,000," Staten says.
The new technologies illustrate the growing importance of the network, rather than the individual computer, Eunice says. With large Web properties buying tens of thousands of servers, they want a hardware design that reduces up-front capital costs and ongoing costs for management and power use. Cisco has recognized that the network and computer are moving closer together with its Unified Computing System, another product that can be seen as part of this trend, he says.
"More and more of IT is becoming networked IT," Eunice says. "More of the applications, more of the services, more of the presentation and access to IT happens over a network."
The IDG News Service contributed to this report.