After I left my second startup in 2001, I’ve been obsessed with small, cheap and powerful computers.
At the time I used to say, “Common sense says that the converse of Moore’s Law1 is that a computer today is going to cost roughly half that in 18 months—i.e. you shouldn’t buy computing power until you need it: it’ll be half off in a year and a half.”
But such a thing was lost on my CEO who, at the suggestion of the CTO, blew $100k on eight 2U Pentium III Dell servers with gigabit ethernet cards and a gigabit router2 before they even had written a line of code. I can still remember, before I joined the company, the CEO proudly showing me the rack of 8 black servers and their beautiful blinking lights of the fiber optic outputs. I also remember thinking I could pay my salary just by getting them never to buy such crap again.
Small, cheap and powerful back then meant a stripped-down Dell Optiplex GX 110 system: an Intel Pentium III Coppermine on and Intel 810A motherboard maxed out at 512MB from Crucial. Even with Dell’s markups, I could have purchased a hundred of them for what they blew on those servers…it turned around we only needed about 20. With creative cabling and a much-too-much time in the colocation, I still crammed the whole thing in a half-rack, more than twice the density of their 2U servers setup at a fraction of the price. I rewrote the software to use many cheap computers and we never had any downtime after that.
When Shuttle introduced the small form factor PC, I purchased one. Now I have a couple. They’re no Mac Minis—stinky cabling, loud as hell, lots of watts, now bundled with a whole bunch of worthless stuff (802.11, bluetooth, memory card readers), and unbundled with a very useful thing (graphics card) in order to accommodate the gamer/media center market. But they are small (I bet I could cram about 30 of them in a half rack), cheap (if you build it yourself), and powerful (gone are the days of arbitrary market segmentation due to built-in obsolescence). The last being important only because my apps are RAM hungry due to time constraints and engineering laziness.
(Don’t get your hopes up—in the two clips I saw, the only thing stripped naked was the computer. Caitlin was very disappointed.)