Tilera Takes On Intel, AMD in Cloud Servers

Tilera is unveiling its Tile-Gx 3000 family of chips aimed at the cloud computing server space, which has been dominated by Intel and AMD.

Tilera is challenging Intel and Advanced Micro Devices in the increasingly competitive market for cloud-based server processors, unveiling the Tile-Gx 3000 family of chips that includes a 100-core model.

Tilera, which has been selling chips since 2007, unveiled the new family June 21, with officials arguing that large Web-based companies with massive data centers are demanding greater improvements in performance and energy efficiency than the traditional x86-based vendors are offering.

"If you look at the top-tier Websites, they have huge data centers, and what they get from Intel and AMD is incremental improvements," Ihab Bishara, director of server solutions at Tilera, said in an interview with eWEEK. "That is not enough."

Tilera offers these customers an "order of magnitude" of improvements, Bishara said.

Tilera is one of a growing number of vendors looking to address the demands of these businesses that are looking for fast, smaller servers that are highly energy-efficient to populate very dense data centers. Both Intel and AMD are driving down the power consumption of and increasing the core counts in their processors. Intel offers Xeons with up to 10 cores, and AMD's Opterons have up to 12 cores, with the 16-core "Interlagos" chip on schedule for release in the third quarter.

Meanwhile, a host of smaller vendors also are looking to muscle their way into the cloud-computing server arena. Executives with ARM Holdings, which designs low-power chips that are found in most mobile devices like smartphones and tablets, want to push their way up the ladder and into the data center. The company last year unveiled its Cortex-A15 design, which includes such key data center features as support for virtualization and greater memory capacity.

A number of chip manufacturers that base their products on ARM designs-including Marvell Technologies, Calxeda and Nvidia-are looking to challenge Intel and AMD in servers. In addition, others are looking to other low-power platforms. For example, SeaMicro is using Intel's low-power Atom chips to run its servers, including the new SM10000-64, which runs on Intel's dual-core Atom N570 processor. In an interview in February, SeaMicro founder and CEO Andrew Feldman said his company is keeping an eye on the growing number of chip makers looking to bring new low-power processors to market. However, no other platform offers the benefits that Atom does, Feldman said at the time.

Tilera's Bishara would argue that. The Tile-Gx 3000 chips offers 10 times the performance-per-watt capabilities of Intel's "Sandy Bridge" Xeon chips, greater reduction of total system power and footprint, and a 50 percent reduction in TCO for customers, he said.

All that is key for companies like Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon, which are building huge data centers to run their Web-based businesses, Bishara said. Many are looking for ways to cut both their capital and operating expenses, and are not afraid to consider new technologies and products.

"That's all about reducing costs," he said.

Tilera's new chips run at 1 to 1.5GHz and offer cores that consume less than 0.5 watts. Each core includes 32KB of Level 1 cache and 256KB of L2 cache. They also share up to 32 megabytes of L3 cache, Bishara said. The chips are organized in a highly parallelized mesh fashion with a large number of interconnects between the cores.

One of the challenges non-x86 chip vendors face in the data center is that most data center software is optimized for the x86 code. However, Bishara said the Tilera chips can run the LAMP (Linux OS, Apache Web server, MySQL database and PERL/Python) Linux software stack, and that Linux represents about 20 percent of the servers being used by Web-based cloud businesses.

The new chip family offers three models, he said. A single 36-core Gx3036 can replace a single-socket eight-core Sandy Bridge server, while a 64-core Gx3064 system can replace a dual-socket eight-core Sandy Bridge system, according to Tilera. The 100-core Gx3100 can replace a quad-socket eight-core Sandy Bridge server. The 36-core chip will be available in the third quarter; the 64- and 100-core chips will be out in the first quarter of 2012.

Bishara said he doesn't expect Tilera to overtake Intel in worldwide chip sales, but said the company will challenge the larger rival in the 20 percent of the server market aimed at large cloud installations.

The company has had some success. Tilera officials in January announced $45 million in funding from the likes of Cisco Systems and Samsung-bringing total investment in the company to $109 million-and in May unveiled its Tile-Gx 8000 series of many-core chips for the networking market. Tilera is focusing its efforts on three areas: networking, multimedia and cloud-computing servers.