Though Intel had recently partnered with SeaMicro in creating microservers, officials with the chip makers said they were not interested in purchasing the server vendor.
Intel executives on the last day in January lauded SeaMicro
for its ability to develop low-power microservers that could leverage not only
the chip makers energy-efficient Atom chips, but also its more powerful Xeon
"It's not an easy thing to go and
do," Jason Waxman, vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center
Business Unit, said during a Jan. 31 press conference, where MicroServer
officials unveiled their new Xeon-powered SM-10000 system
Fast-forward several weeks, and much has
changed. Rival Advanced Micro Devices announced Feb. 29 its intention to buy
SeaMicro for about $334 million
, a move that at once expands AMDs portfolio of
low-power server technology, while taking away a partner from Intel. It also
was the latest move under new CEO Rory Read, who is looking to reinvigorate AMD
and broaden its reach. It also fed ongoing speculation that AMD eventually will
license low-power, non-x86 chip designs from ARM Holdings, whose highly
energy-efficient chips are found in most smartphones and tablets, but who also
is eyeing the low-power server space.
AMDs move to acquire SeaMicro impressed
many industry observers, who said it gave the chip maker a push forward in the
low-power server space, which is becoming increasingly popular, particularly in
such environments as Web 2.0 and cloud computing. However, it didnt impress
Intel officials, who have since dismissed both the deal and SeaMicros fabric
technology, a key part of its highly dense server designs.
Speaking during a press conference following
Intels March 6 announcement of its new Xeon E5-2600 server processor, Diane Bryant
, vice president and general manager of
Intels Datacenter and Connected Systems Group, said the company took a look at
the idea of buying SeaMicro and passed.
"We just looked at SeaMicro's fabric,
Bryant said. There were very few people they didn't shop their solution to.
They came to us and asked if we would be interested in it, or in licensing the
technology. We were not impressed, and we declined. Very soon after, we saw
that our competitor bought it."
If AMDs move shook Intel at all, Bryant wasnt saying. "We have a very robust and compelling road map
for this [microserver] market, and we partner with Dell, Supermicro, NEC and Hitachi with
others to be
announced soon. Weve been also collaborating extensively with HP on
servers and scale-out software research," Bryant said.
SeaMicro has created microservers that can
hold more than 1,000 cores in a single 10U rack. The new SM10000-XE holds 64
low-power quad-core Xeon E3-1260L chips, giving the system 1,024 cores in a
standard rack. In designing the systems, SeaMicro has stripped the
traditional motherboard of about 90 percent of its components, including
Ethernet network interface cards and BIOS chips, that officials say consume
power but arent needed.
What's left is a motherboard that includes a processor, double
data rate type three (DDR3) dynamic RAM from Samsung and SeaMicro's Freedom
Fabric application-specific IC (ASIC) fabric chip, which handles networking and
Analysts applauded AMDs decision to buy SeaMicro. The
strategic goal is a differentiated server architecture into which it can
insert AMD silicon and IP, Forrester analyst Richard Fichera
said in a blog
post Feb. 29.
Since this architecture is initially targeted at dense computing environments,
such as those found in Web 2.0, cloud service providers and similar workloads,
as well as potentially at conventional HPC, the prospects for AMD are
Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research, said
in a research note that SeaMicros Freedom Fabric is really the jewel in the
crown of the AMD deal. Not only should the Freedom technology bolster AMDs
considerable efforts in high performance and supercomputing, but the companys
OEM customers that are focused on those and related cloud and Web 2.0 markets
(which is to say, most all of them) will likely consider the technology a
valuable addition to their solution quivers. That should help enrich AMD in the
short term but could also help polish the companys image as far-thinking
AMD could also license the fabric technology to other
vendors. AMD spokesman Phil Hughes told Wired.com
that SeaMicro, with its fabric, greatly enhances his companys capabilities.
With the acquisition of SeaMicro, we believe we
will have the best server IP portfolio in the marketplace, Hughes said.
Intel is not sitting still. Several officials have said since
the AMD deal was announced that Intel is hard at work at its own fabric
technology, and analysts have pointed out that Intel has bought some networking
vendorssuch as Fulcrum Microsystemswhose technology would lend themselves to
Intel is also likely disappointed [with the AMD-SeaMicro
deal], but its 2011 acquisition of 10GbE player Fulcrum Microsystems and
increasing focus on robust networking solutions means that Intel may be able to
respond with a competitive high-performance fabric technology far sooner than
many assume, King wrote.
Chip makers and OEMs alike are looking for ways to offer
low-power systems that can quickly move workloads in Web 2.0 and cloud
environments. For example, Hewlett-Packard is working with Calxeda, which makes
chips based on ARM designs, to create such servers for its Project Moonshot, an
initiative to create extremely low-power systems to run in massive computing