A new startup company, created by former Nortel execs, is promising telco-class networking with high-performance computing to create a near unlimited pool of server resources that can grow and shrink in response to demand.

Liquid Computing is building a modular server system with a high-bandwidth fibre interconnect to let users shift workloads and reconfigure systems on demand.

Trials will start this summer, be available next year, and will be targeted at high-performance computing customers such as those in bio-sciences and government.

The system comprises a 37-inch chassis with 20 modules - each consisting of four dual-core AMD Opteron processors, memory and I/O - that plug into a common mid-plane. Multiple chassis can be tied together via fibre cables, and the initial release will scale to 12 chassis, or 960 processors, said Brian Hurley, Liquid Computing’s CEO.

The interconnect is Liquid Computing’s key feature. It is a combination of commodity components and proprietary devices that enable it to have latency of "less than two microseconds from processor to processor" and throughput of up to 6Gbit/s over fibre-optic lines, Hurley says. He stresses that the proprietary nature of the interconnect is transparent to applications.

"With a simple software command, we can configure the processors to look like a bunch of two-ways, a bunch of four-ways, a bunch of eight-ways - with any combination of memory and I/O that’s required by the application at that point in time," Hurley said.

The technology also will be useful in enterprise data centres, he added. "We’re really doing for computing what SAN and NAS have done for storage in context of allowing an aggregation of resources that gives you economies of scale relative to manageability, high availability services and flexibility in how the resources are used."

While the debut systems will be built on Opteron processors, Hurley said it is really "processor agnostic". Intel Xeon processors could also be used, for example. "We can mix and match processor types within the platform without issue."

The challenge for Liquid Computing will be convincing customers that what they’re offering is better than grid or server clustering products that major systems vendors such as IBM, HP, Sun and SGI offer today, analysts say.

"They have to differentiate themselves from the major server vendors and networking companies, and show there is a difference and that people don’t need to buy disparate parts for the function they can provide in their integrated product offering," said Alan Freedman, research manager of infrastructure hardware at IDC.

Pricing has yet to be finalised.