On Tuesday, General Micro Systems Inc. will announce its first "modular" server blade. Called "Spider," the PowerPC-based blade is 30 percent smaller than a credit card and promises to spare telecom customers from building new sites.
GMS, designer of single-board computers fashioned around the embedded VMEbus and CompactPCI standards, plans to discuss the Spider at the Server Blade Summit this week in San Jose, Calif.
The GMS Spider isnt quite the same as a true blade, which is essentially a slimmed-down version of a PC or server motherboard that can be vertically mounted in racks. However, GMS CEO Ben Sharfi said Lucent Technologies Inc. is evaluating the Spider for use in a dedicated call router.
"One of our boards can replace six of theirs inside the chassis," Sharfi said. "Telecom customers dont build new sites—they get more productivity out of [existing] sites."
GMS, based in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., will ship two versions of the Spider: the P501, based on IBMs 400MHz 440GP embedded processor; and the P502, based on IBMs high-performance 800MHz PowerPC 440GX embedded processor. The Spider itself measures 2.8 inches by 1.9 inches and is a shrunken version of GMS previous board, which measured 3.5 inches by 6 inches.
While some monolithic servers offer the ability to hot-swap processors in and out if one fails, server blades dont yet offer hot-swap capability. Instead, an administrator has to replace the entire blade. The GMS Spider will allow Lucent and other customers to take this model one step further by mounting up to eight computing modules on a single 6-inch by 9-inch board—the highest yet achieved, Sharfi said.
"Historically, customers would buy two of the same blade servers and place them next to each other, duplicating the blade and cost," Sharfi said.
The Spider includes 256KB of level 2 cache, up to 256MB of DDR SDRAM (double-date-rate synchronous dynamic RAM), an additional 16MB of flash memory for booting and user functions, and an additional 32KB of flash to identify the user. The module also has two serial ports, an I2C port, a real-time clock and a 32-bit device bus with DMA, which enables designers to add their own custom I/O without a PCI interface, according to GMS.
GMS has also designed the Spider to be used by embedded control applications, such as monitors in a factory. By substituting distributed Spiders in place of a dedicated server, a customer can place the "computer" at the point of contact and eliminate the need to string cables throughout the factory floor, Sharfi said. The Spider will compete with products designed to the PC/104 specification, which is another module design, Sharfi said. A version of the Apache server is embedded into the module.
GMS designed the compact Spider card by miniaturizing the power supply and redesigning the printed circuit board to enable a much more tightly integrated design. The PCB runs the electrical traces through the board itself, rather than just on top of it.
The IBM PowerPC 440GX is a new addition to the GMS line, Sharfi said. In tests performed by the independent Embedded Microprocessor Benchmark Consortium in June 2003, a 667MHz PowerPC 440GX outperformed a 500MHz IBM 440GP by about 33 percent on average, using a variety of application-specific benchmarks. The 440GX, which was recognized as the best embedded processor of 2002 by Cahners In-Stat/MDR, contains a built-in TCP/IP hardware acceleration unit and four Ethernet channels, two of which are Gigabit Ethernet-capable.
The Spiders will be available in two to three weeks, Sharfi said. GMS does not manufacture the boards itself; instead, the company uses Solectron Corp. as a contract manufacturer.
Correction: This story was modified on March 8 at 12:52 PM. GMS has not produced the first hot-swappable blade.