Intel Ships Low-Power Atom Avoton Chips for Data Centers

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-09-04

Intel Ships Low-Power Atom Avoton Chips for Data Centers

Intel officials are rolling out a range of new data center products, including the latest Atom processor for microservers and other systems, as the company pushes forward with its efforts to evolve from a general-purpose chip maker to a supplier of infrastructure products for cloud-based environments.

During an event Sept. 4 in San Francisco, company officials officially announced the low-power Atom C2000 processor family, as well as introduced new silicon for Ethernet switching and demonstrated the chip maker's first Rack Scale Architecture (RSA) design that included Intel's Silicon Photonics technology and a new MXC connector and optical fiber.

Intel has begun shipping the C2000 chips, according to officials.

The new offerings and the demonstration play to the vision of the changing data center that company executives talked about during another event in July, where such trends as greater mobility and cloud computing are creating environments where infrastructures are being asked to process massive numbers of small, lightweight workloads and to rapidly spin out new cloud services.

"The infrastructure must change in support of cloud-based services," Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Datacenter and Connected Systems Group, said during the event, which was Webcast.

The new infrastructure requirements mean that tech vendors like Intel must also adapt their offerings, creating more targeted products optimized for particular workloads—such as Web hosting, distributed memory caching, static Web serving  and content delivery—and that are small, are highly energy-efficient and offer solid performance, Bryant said.

The Atom C2000 family—formerly code-named Avoton (for servers) and Rangeley (for networking systems)—is an example of this approach, she said. Intel in December 2012 released Centerton, the first Atom chip created for data center products, particularly microservers, which are very small and energy-efficient systems designed to handle the newer cloud services-based workloads.

Nine months later, Intel is releasing the C2000 lineup, which includes 13 different models designed for disparate workloads—not only microservers, but also such devices as cold storage systems and entry-level networking products, which are new product markets for the chip maker. The 22-nanometer systems-on-a-chip (SoC) are the first built using Intel's new "Silvermont" microarchitecture, and offer seven times the performance and six times the energy efficiency of the Centerton chips.

The C2000 portfolio will feature offerings with up to eight cores, integrated Ethernet connectivity and support for up to 64 gigabytes of memory, eight times more than the Centerton chips. They will consume between six and 20 watts.

The microserver space, which is among the fastest-growing segments in the overall server market, looks to become increasingly competitive as ARM and its manufacturing partners look to move into the data center with their low-power designs. Chips based on ARM's upcoming 64-bit ARMv8 should begin appearing next year, although some partners, including Calexda and Marvell Technology, already offer server chips based on ARM's current 32-bit design. In addition, Applied Micro is working on a 28nm version of its X-Gene, a 64-bit ARM-based SoC.


Intel Ships Low-Power Atom Avoton Chips for Data Centers

Bryant said there are more than 50 system designs in the works based on the C2000 lineup, including 11 microservers built by the likes of Dell, Huawei Technologies and Hewlett-Packard, which at the event showed off its M300 system, the latest microserver from the company's Project Moonshot initiative to build ultra-low-power servers. Other systems in the works—many of which were on display at the event—were in the areas of storage and networking, including Dell's new DCS 1300 offering for cold storage workloads. Executives from companies like Microsoft, Ericsson and took to the stage to talk about how they planned to use the C2000 chips in everything from networking to servers.

OVH and 1&1, both Web-hosting companies, are testing the C2000 chips and will deploy them in their data centers in the next quarter.

Bryant said Intel is evolving its SoC methodology—which integrates such features as I/O, security and memory onto the silicon—to enable the company to more quickly and easily create chips that can be optimized for particular workloads. The chip maker has focused much of those efforts on the low-power Atom platform, and will continue it when it releases the 14nm "Denverton" Atom chip in 2014. At the same time, the company will release the first Xeon SoC, the 14nm SoC version of the upcoming "Broadwell" chip.

The SoC strategy "allows us to extend our reach into new business areas," she said.

Along with the C2000 SoCs, Intel also unveiled the Ethernet Switch FM5224 silicon—which, when combined with Intel's WindRiver Open Network software suite, enables the development of 2.5GHz high-density and low-latency software-defined networking (SDN) Ethernet switches designed for microservers. The FM5224 complements Intel's integrated Ethernet controller within the C2000. Switches powered by the FM5224 can connect up to 64 microservers and offer up to 30 percent higher node density than what is now available, Bryant said.

Jason Waxman, vice president and general manager of Intel's Cloud Platform Group, showed a quick demonstration of an RSA design, which aims to create racks of servers sharing resources such as power and cooling, and that can easily be configured with networking and storage systems. The goal is to create pools of resources—compute, memory, storage and networking—at the rack level that applications can automatically draw upon as needed.

The demonstration included a rack using C2000 SoCs, a top-of-rack Intel SDN-enabled switch and Intel Silicon Photonics Technology. It also showed off the new MXC connector and ClearCurve fiber technology developed by Corning based on Intel requirements. The fiber connections are designed to work with Intel's Silicon Photonics components.

In addition, Intel—which already works with the Facebook-driven Open Compute Project and Baidu, China's largest search engine, on RSA efforts—announced that the company will collaborate with Microsoft on the software vendor's next-generation RSA rack design. Microsoft manages more than a million servers in its data centers.


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