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Sources Say Supermicro's Massive, Secret Data Center Customer Is Intel

Supermicro, known for its high-density servers, had a hand in helping Intel build a highly-efficient data center with a PUE, or power usage effectiveness, of only 1.06, channel sources said.

Sources in the system builder community tell CRN that Intel is the mystery customer that Supermicro referred to when it discussed a 30,000-plus server deal for a super-high-efficiency data center.

San Jose, Calif.-based Super Micro Computer, better known as Supermicro, said on Monday that a Fortune 100 customer in Silicon Valley had installed over 30,000 Supermicro MicroBlade disaggregated, Intel Xeon processor-based servers into a data center with a PUE of 1.06.

"PUE," or power usage effectiveness, is an industry-standard measure of a data center's power efficiency. PUE rates the amount of power that goes into a data center compared to the power used by the equipment used for computing. Power in excess of what is used for computing, or the overhead, goes to the facilities related to the data center, in particular the cooling systems.

[Related: Power, Environmental Concerns Driving Data Center Design]

A PUE of 1.00 would indicate little or no wasted energy.

Supermicro, in announcing the deal, did not name the specific customer, and did not respond to a request for more information from CRN.

However, custom system builders who work with both Supermicro and Intel said the customer is Intel, citing discussions with Supermicro employees. An Intel spokesperson would not confirm or deny Intel's involvement, but told CRN via email that an Intel statement in the announcement was provided "as a way to highlight the value that a disaggregated rack scale design server architecture has on improving data center efficiency and TCO."

Intel manufactures servers and motherboards, but the company's choice of Supermicro for its high-efficiency data center build is no surprise, according to custom system builders who discussed the news on condition of anonymity.

One custom system builder told CRN that Supermicro is known for the density of its server solutions. "Intel doesn't have anything near as dense as Supermicro," the system builder said.

The system builder said that the Supermicro MicroBlade solution cited by Supermicro offer 14 hot-swappable server blades in a 3U-high chassis or 28 hot-swappable blades in a 6U chassis, compared to an Intel 2U chassis which supports up to four server modules.

Another system builder told CRN that the Supermicro high-density chassis is a very good solution in use by a lot of data center customers.

The second system builder said that the Intel server line is nowhere as extensive as that of Supermicro, and does not have the same density of the Supermicro line.

"My price list for Supermicro as SKU numbers in the thousands," the system builder said. "My Intel price list has SKU numbers in the tens."

A data center PUE of 1.06 is considered extremely efficient. The Uptime Institute in 2014 said the average data center PUE was 1.7. Google early this year said that its trailing 12-month PUE across all its data centers is about 1.17, with its best data center measuring 1.06.

However, the use of PUE as a measure of data center efficiency is not without controversy. A data center in a cool climate would be expected to require much less cooling, a major use of power, than a data center in a warm, humid climate.

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