The PC market has thrived on standard components and standard chassis allowing fierce competition and huge volumes. Rackmount servers fit this model with a 1U, 19" chassis and common components. Bladeservers offer significant benefits over rackmount servers but do not fit the PC model with multiple blade formats and proprietary chassis. The plans by PICMG to develop ATCA Extension specifications (ATCA Attacks the Data Center) should bring the benefits of the blade server in a standard format that gives data center managers the vendor freedom they have with rack mount servers.
Rackmount servers provide a standardized solution for data centers but are inefficient with each 1U chassis integrating power supply and cooling as well as CPU, memory and storage. Switching is provided separately. Bladeservers share power supply and cooling in a chassis that integrates switching and I/O but ties data center managers into a single supplier for upgrades. ATCA was developed for carrier grade telecom applications but has many characteristics that are valuable in a mission critical data center including system management and dual redundant components.
There is now significant commitment to ATCA from Tier 1 telecom equipment providers, growing volume and a well established ecosystem. The time is now right to extend this successful platform out of the central office into the data center (see Watch out blade server market - here comes ATCA!).
The initial proposal for ATCA in the data center defines double wide blades, increasing power per blade to at least 600W and allowing the use of 34 mm z-height memory modules used in 1U blade servers. Replacing the rear transition module in a standard ATCA chassis with a second row of server blades supports fourteen doublewide blades. This concept is really bringing the 1U rackmount server into a standardized blade server format.
Although blade servers offer significant benefits, many data centers continue to use standard 1U rackmount servers. With the right cost base and the double wide format ATCA can deliver the benefits of both rackmount and blade servers in a standardized platform. This looks like it could be the winning formula for the standardized data center.