AMD 'Bobcat' Cores Not Ready for Servers--Yet

An AMD executive said the company's upcoming "Bobcat" processor design, currently aimed at mobile devices and ultra-thin laptops, doesn't have features for servers, but that those could come in the future.

Enterprises that want more energy-efficient processor platforms for their cloud-computing environments shouldn't look to Advanced Micro Devices' upcoming "Bobcat" architecture. At least not yet.

In a Nov. 29 blog post, John Fruehe, director of product marketing for server, embedded and FireStream products at AMD, said a customer on a recent trip to Asia asked him if AMD was planning on offering processors based on the Bobcat core for low-power servers that could be used in cloud computing environments.

On initial blush, it would make some sense, Fruehe said. The Bobcat core, which comes in 9- and 18-watt versions, is targeted at such client offering as mobile devices and ultra-thin laptops. Such energy efficiency is attractive in data centers that need a lot of smaller systems to run high numbers of smaller workloads.

"With all of the talk about cloud computing and low power environments, this customer was thinking that this might be a good alternative for a cloud solution," Fruehe said. "With a power draw that low, it appears pretty appealing."

However, he said, for the demands of today's cloud computing environments, AMD's Opteron 4100 and 6100 series processors meet the needs, in such areas as watts-per-core. In addition, the Opteron processors have various server features that the Bobcat cores-which will begin appearing in systems in 2011-don't, including ECC memory and support for server operating systems.

The Bobcat APUs (accelerated processing units), which include integrated graphics capabilities, also are based on single-processor systems, and while they may offer high energy efficiency, they wouldn't scale well in cloud environments, Fruehe said.

"So, while you get really low power, you also don't necessarily have the core density that cloud customers demand," he wrote. "This can impact the overall manageability of the solution."

That said, it doesn't mean AMD is closing the door on using its Bobcat or "Bulldozer" core designs for future SoC (system-on-a-chip) offerings for servers in the cloud computing market. Bulldozer currently is being aimed at servers and high-end desktop systems. Fruehe said AMD is "analyzing" both designs for cloud environments.

"There is not 100% clarity at this time about the needs of the cloud market because so much of it is evolving today, but we are serious about ensuring we have the right solution going into the future," he wrote. "That means any products we develop in the future for cloud servers would have 'server class' features (ECC, appropriate cache sizes and memory support etc.)."

Systems makers and chip vendors are pushing solutions designed to meet the high performance and low power consumption demands of scale-out cloud environments. In his blog, Fruehe compares AMD's Bobcat core to Intel's Atom processor, which initially was designed for the netbook space but is expanding into other markets.

Server maker SeaMicro is building highly efficient systems based on the Atom platform, while Quanta Computer is basing some of its servers on Tilera's processors. At the same time, chip makers like Marvell and Calxeda are looking to build server processors based on ARM designs that can find their way into servers. ARM earlier this year unveiled its Cortex-A15 design that company officials say will have features to get it into enterprise systems, including servers.