The VIA Nano processor is going where no ultra-low-power processor has gone before: the Dell server market.  In what is probably one of the most interesting uses of all this “low power” technology we have seen take over the netbook market in the last couple of years, Dell’s ‘skunkwork’-like team has developed a solution to incredibly dense server environments they are calling “Fortuna” but what is officially now known as the XS11-VX8 server

The “Fortuna” platform was set out to answer these problems:

Before jumping into the speeds and feeds, let’s talk a little about the specific problem our DCS Architecture team set out to solve. A number of large web-hosting providers approached the DCS team with a desire for unique, physical machines right-sized for a web-hosting workload. These unique physical machines must operate and perform like an enterprise-class server in terms of applications and management, but their workloads don’t warrant multi-socket or multi-core architectures.

To fill this space today, these customers often select general purpose 1U servers or low-end tower servers. However, compromises are made around the density, power, and/or manageability aspects associated with these alternatives.

The answer that Dell’s team found was the VIA Nano processor and its power efficiency and feature support.  A complete server in a form close to the size of a 3.5-in hard drive, features the CPU, dedicated memory and storage as well as dual Gigabit NICs!  Even more impressively, because the processor supports 64-bit operating systems, virtualization and remote management, Dell didn’t have dramatically adjust the operating systems that would run on the hardware.

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A 3.5″ hard drive (left) and “Fortuna” server (right)

Of course, another big reason for suing the VIA Nano processor (reviewed here) as opposed to other options is the power efficiency.  Dell claims that each server will only draw about 15 watts at OS idle and 29 watts when under a full load. 

Implementation of these servers is interesting as well – a single 2U server space can hold 12 of the XS11-VX8 systems in a hot plug environment.

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Twelve “Fortuna” servers in a 2U rack mount configuration

It will be very interesting to see how well these servers are adopted and how much this affect’s VIA bottom line in the coming months.  Dell’s estimated pricing on each “Fortuna” XS11-VX8 server is $399.

Below is a video from Dell going into more detail on the design issues and solutions the “Fortuna” platform solves.