IBM, HP, Dell and Sun may sell the lion's share of servers, but it's important to pay attention also to up and coming players in the server space. Sometimes, a not-so-well-known vendor has the perfect offering to meet your needs. Appro International of Milpitas, Calif., for example, focuses on high-performance computing (HPC) for the x86 market. Its servers come in a variety of flavors, Windows or Linux, and Intel or AMD.
"Appro brings high-value, end-to-end HPC cluster solutions that are flexible, powerful and scalable with a great price/performance," said Maria McLaughlin, director of marketing at Appro. "In addition, Appro offers a choice of processors, along with high performance network connectivity solutions with multiple I/O options."
She believes the HPC space has grown beyond being a niche market and continues to enjoy tremendous growth. IDC, which uses the HPC term to cover all technical servers that scientists, engineers, financial analysts and others use, pegs revenue from HPC at all-time high of $10 billion annually, in a $52 billion server market. This segment has experienced 20.9 percent annual growth in factory revenue during the past four years.
McLaughlin said Appro is making inroads in particular in oil and gas, financial services, government (in labs and defense), education, electronic design automation, digital content creation and manufacturing. On the other hand, she noted that ISPs, Web servers and file servers are markets Appro does not serve.
Appro HyperBlade was launched in 2003 using AMD Opteron. Shortly after that, Intel Xeon-based versions were added. The HyperBlade uses commodity x86 components to address the high-performance and technical computing markets.
|Recent Server Snapshots|
"Appro partnered with Raytheon, HPC Solutions Group, to market HyperBlade cluster solutions and Raytheon's value-added services to address government and defense HPC vertical markets," says McLaughlin. "HyperBlade offers fully integrated clusters using a hybrid blade/1U rack form factor."
Like regular blades, HyperBlades plug into a common backplane to eliminate cable clutter. They are vertically mounted. These dual-processor servers are based on the AMD Opteron 2000 series or the Intel Xeon 3000, 5100 or 5300 series.
The most recent upgrade to the Appro HyperBlade includes the Xeon 3000 series processor. These latest HyperBlades offer two boards per chassis. They feature one PCI-Express x8 slot, SAS RAID cards and four DIMM slots (for a maximum of 8GB) of DDR2 533/667 memory.
Appro plans to introduce AMD and Intel multicore-based blades and launch a new blade design toward the end of the year.
Following the success of its blades, Appro expanded its product line in 2006 with the addition of XtremeServers. These 1U and 3U units are based on AMD Opteron processors and contain Appro-designed motherboards.
"Our motherboard comes with eight memory slots per processor instead of only four slots supported by other motherboard manufactures," said McLaughlin. "This provides our customers with better system memory flexibility."
The 1U XtremeServers allow up to 64 GB of on-board memory, while the 3U machines permit up to 128 GB of RAM. They have dual-core AMD Opteron processors 2 to 4 processors. Pricing starts at $2,105.
"One of our customers is Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory," said McLaughlin. "A few months ago, Appro supplied the lab with three 1U Quad XtremeServer supercomputing clusters with a total of 16,128 cores."
Lawrence Livermore is in the midst of expanding its Appro Linux cluster. Several thousand more cores are being added. When complete, according to McLaughlin, its peak performance will be 33.18 TFLOPS. A total of 13,864 GB of memory will be available to the system. The lab has also incorporated a two-stage 20 Gb/s 4x Double Data Rate (DDR) InfiniBand fabric. These clusters should be fully deployed by August.
During the summer, the entire XtremeServer line will be upgraded to support the new AMD quad-core processors, which is scheduled to be released soon.
While the XtremeServers harness AMD chips, Appro also debuted a brand new product line that uses Intel Xeon processors. Known as Hyperservers, they have been available only since last month. Four models are available; three are 1U and one is 2U. The four servers contain the Xeon 3000, 5100 and 5200 chips. SAS and SATA storage options are available. Pricing starts from $1,850.
Appro systems come loaded with Linux (SUSE and Red Hat mainly), Windows 2x and Unix; however, most of what the company sells is Linux-based.
"90 percent of what we sell is Linux," says McLaughlin. "The reason why is simple: total cost of ownership."
Appro certainly isn't the first company that buyers think of when looking for a blade or a server. So how is it doing in terms of gaining market share? According to Gartner, the company has a long way to go.
"I haven't seen any traction with Appro in the customers I talk to," says John Enck, an analyst with Gartner. "The biggest problem they face is the same problem all new server vendors face customers want to deal with fewer vendors, not more."
While Appro has certainly gotten creative with its product offerings and has defined a niche into which to expand, it faces stiff competition. As well as the big four, other vendors are also intent in carving out a piece of the HPC space.
"A server hardware vendor must offer something truly unique and truly problem-solving to be considered by customers," says Enck. "It's not clear to me that Appro has a unique enough offering to convince a company to do business with it in addition to their existing server vendors."
Appro's Server Lines, at a Glance
|Server Family||Target Deployment||Processor Types||Processor Range||Operating Systems||Servers||Price|
|HyperBlade||Designed for high-density, high-performance technical computing applications, with a compute node for density and consolidation with optimized, large HPC cluster environments||AMD Opteron 2000 series, Intel Xeon 3000 Series and Intel Xeon 5100/5300||2 processors||Linux (including Red Hat and SUSE), Windows 2x, Solaris and other Unix flavors||HyperBlade||From $1,760 (for 2x Xeon CPUs, 2x 512 MB of RAM, no HDD and not including Rack cabinets)|
|XtremeServers||Opteron-based servers with up to 128GB of memory per server designed for compute-intensive applications (e.g., engineering graphic simulation and rendering, computational fluid dynamics, scientific visualization, and digital content creation)||AMD Opteron 2000 series or AMD Opteron 8000 series||2 to 4 processors||Linux, Windows and Unix||1522H
|From $2,015 (with 2x Opteron CPUs, 2x512 MB of RAM, no HDDs, no CDROM)|
|HyperServers||Xeon-based enterprise and HPC servers with SATA and SAS storage options available to support applications from file servers and high-performance databases||Intel Xeon 5100/5300 series||1 to 2 processors||Linux, Windows and Unix||1200X