For years, manufacturers concentrated on "big iron"--expensive servers that do anything from printing files to managing oceans of financial data. Now, penny-pinching customers want to lighten up. Here's what they're asking for:
Data centers cost about $50 million to build. Those prices have led to a surge in sales of pizza box-size servers that can be stacked in racks. Now, computer makers are going smaller with "blade" servers that look like thin PC-cards, and get 20 times the computing punch per rack.
Smaller servers use less power, a big deal given high energy bills. Plus, machines that run cooler can be packed closer to one another, increasing computing power per square foot. Upstarts RLX and FiberCycle are leading the low-power charge. Compaq (CPQ ), Dell (DELL ), and Intel (INTC ) are right behind.
Maintaining servers can cost more than buying them. So server makers are starting to offer machines that can be serviced remotely. IBM (IBM ) is developing technology that can detect server problems and fix them with almost no human help.