Mobile Devices, Cloud, Applications Drive Server Design Diversity

By Jeff Burt  |  Posted 2013-12-31 Print this article Print

The first Intel-based Moonshot systems—including the ProLiant m300 server cartridge—is designed for Web applications, leveraging the high performance-per-watt features of Intel's Atom 2750 SoC. Meanwhile, the new m700 cartridge is targeted at hosted desktop environments, taking advantage of the integrated graphics acceleration in AMD's Opteron X2150 accelerated processing unit (APU).

HP is far from the only server maker to offer energy-efficient, dense architectures. SeaMicro has been at it for several years, and Dell is building its Copper and Zinc microservers, which are powered by ARM-based chips from Calxeda and Applied Micro. The demand for power efficiency and density also is giving rise to smaller vendors—including Servergy and Boston Ltd.—that are rolling out low-power systems.

Microservers are what Verizon opted for with its new public cloud infrastructure. Verizon's Curtis said that when he and other officials began looking for systems, SeaMicro's SM15000s made the most sense. The systems had what Verizon was looking for and there were few alternatives that could meet the wireless carrier's demands. The only other choices were traditional 1U (1.75-inch) systems Curtis said.

"We focused on SeaMicro pretty quick from the start," he said. "The density was very attractive. The low power was attractive. "

The SM15000 microservers run up to 512 cores in a 10U (17.5-inch) system, with up to 2,048 cores per rack and 4 terabytes of memory per system. Each CPU socket offers 10G-bps bandwidth, and the systems bring up to 5 petabytes of storage.

"I wanted to be able to do things in my cloud I couldn't do in the data center," Curtis said, noting not only the microservers, but the ability to leverage SSDs and other technologies. He also touted SeaMicro's Freedom Fabric, which helps link the hundreds of chips in the microserver. Fabrics will become increasingly important as server vendors look to leverage increasingly larger numbers of chips and cores in their systems.

It's In the Chips

Intel's dominance in server chips is being challenged in several areas, though it remains to be seen how those challenges will pan out. Low-power systems running on upcoming 64-bit ARM chip designs are expected to begin coming to market later in 2014 from a wide range of system makers, including HP, Dell and Boston Ltd.

AMD will begin making 64-bit ARM chips next year, a key part of its ambidextrous computing approach to offer whatever platform is needed, whether it's x86 or ARM. Feldman said the growth in the use of smartphones and tablets is fueling the demand for greater computing in the data center along with the need for greater energy efficiency and density in the systems. Power and space are becoming increasingly important, and "what this means is that one-size-fits-all is dead," a reference to Intel's insistence that the x86 architecture can be used for all compute needs.

Intel officials are taking the ARM server threat seriously. It respondedearlier this year by launching the second generation of its low-power Atom chips for microservers even before the first of the systems powered by 64-bit ARM chips has reached the market. They also argue that the Intel Architecture offers organizations familiar software and development tools—as well as a large software partner ecosystem—rather than having to adopt unfamiliar software.

ARM will have its challenges going forward. During the recent Dell World 2013 show, several Dell executives said there is potential for ARM to succeed in the data center, but the chip designer will need to build the ecosystem around the Dell architecture for it to gain real traction.


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