Calxeda Expands 32-, 64-Bit ARM Server Plans

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-10-28

Calxeda Expands 32-, 64-Bit ARM Server Plans

ARM-based chip maker Calxeda is unveiling the latest generation of its 32-bit processors for the data center while expanding the number of its upcoming 64-bit server chips.

Calxeda officials on Oct. 28 announced the EnergyCore ECX-2000 family of ARM Cortex-A15-based systems on a chip (SoCs) that are aimed at I/O-intensive cloud computing environments, including distributed storage, gaming services, streaming media and private clouds.

The 32-bit chips include the Cortex-A15 cores up to 1.8GHz, and come integrated with 10 Gigabit Ethernet, standard I/O controllers and Calxeda's Fleet Fabric, which includes an embedded network fabric switch that can connect thousands of EnergyCore SoCs. The technology is a key part of Calxeda's effort to bring ARM's low-power chip technology normally found in mobile devices to the data center, according to Calxeda co-founder and CEO Barry Evans.

"The Calxeda Fleet Fabric enables our customers to create an extremely efficient computing infrastructure that improves management of large-scale clouds at lower cost, lower power and reduced carbon footprint," Evans said in a statement. "Coupled with the strength of our software and hardware partners, this is an unbeatable combination in an industry that is demanding better alternatives."

Officials with ARM, which offers chip designs that are then licensed by partners like Calxeda, Samsung, Qualcomm and Nvidia, are looking to leverage the growing demand in the data center for more energy-efficient system to move its architecture into the enterprise. The initial target has been low-power microservers that can help lower the cost and increase the efficiency of data centers in hyperscale environments, such as Web hosting, where huge numbers of servers are being asked to process massive amounts of small transactions.

However, chip makers increasingly are looking at ARM designs for other parts of the data center, including storage and networking. In recent weeks, both Broadcom and IBM said they would leverage the ARM architecture to build networking and communications chips. Still, the ultra-efficient server space is a target market. For example, Hewlett-Packard officials expect to use the EnergyCore ECX-2000 SoCs in some of its Project Moonshot family of microservers, which also will include processors from other ARM partners as well as Intel and Advanced Micro Devices.

"When delivered in an HP Moonshot solution, we believe [the ECX-2000] will offer users a new level of performance, requiring less energy and less space than traditional solutions do today," Paul Santeler, vice president and general manager of HP's Hyperscale Business Unit, said in a statement.

Calxeda Expands 32-, 64-Bit ARM Server Plans

The new SoCs will offer twice the performance, four times the memory capacity and three times the memory bandwidth than current ARM-based servers, according to Calxeda, which will demonstrate the chips with the open-source OpenStack cloud technology and the open-source Ceph distributed object storage software at the ARM TechCon event in Santa Clara, Calif., Oct. 29-31. The ECX-2000, which supports KVM and XEN open-source virtualization hypervisors, also is being certified by Canonical for Ubuntu 13.10, which includes the latest OpenStack released, dubbed "Havana."

As ARM looks to gain traction in a data center environment dominated by Intel, support of open-source technology will be a key driver, according to officials. Intel executives, when promoting their Atom C2000 "Avoton" chips for microservers, noted that the x86-based chips come with familiar programming tools. However, in an interview with eWEEK in April when HP announced its first Moonshot systems—the initial ones being powered by Atom—Llakshmi Mandyam, director of ARM's Server and Ecosystems unit, argued that open-source technology is continuing to grow in data centers.

"Open source is the great equalizer," Mandyam said. "I don't think the gap [between ARM and Intel in server processor technology] is as much as you might think."

Calxeda officials have been sampling with ECX-2000 with partners and expect to ship the SoC in volume to system makers before the end of the year. System makers such as HP, Dreamhost, Aaeon, Boston Ltd. and Penguin Computing will release systems with the new SoC later this year, according to Calxeda officials.

In servers, 64-bit capabilities as well as greater virtualization and memory support are important features. ARM's first 64-bit architecture—ARMv8-A—is due next year, and a range of chip makers, including Calxeda, Marvell and AMD, are expected to offer server chips based on the design. Applied Micro officials point to their upcoming 280-nanometer X-Gene as an ARM-based SoC with Xeon-like features and capabilities.

Calxeda is expanding its portfolio of 64-bit SoCs with the addition of the planned "Sarita" offering. Sarita will complement the already announced "Lago" chips, but also will be pin-compatible with the 32-bit ECX-1000 and ECX-2000 SoCs. The pin compatibility will make it easier for Calxeda partners to reduce development time and expense while accelerating the ecosystem around 64-bit ARM, according to company officials.


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