SeaMicro Server Offers 768 Intel Atom Cores, Low Power

SeaMicro is rolling out the SM10000-64 HD, the third Atom-based system for the server vendor in the last year.

SeaMicro is continuing its rapid cadence of new low-power servers powered by Intel's Atom chips, rolling out its third such server in less than a year.

SeaMicro officials on July 18 unveiled the SM10000-64 HD, a server that packs 768 Atom processor cores, which improves the company's compute density by 150 percent and per-watt performance by 20 percent. The numbers make the SM10000-64 HD the most efficient x86 server on the market, according to SeaMicro founder and CEO Andrew Feldman.

Feldman noted the rapid innovation his company is offering in its high-density, low-power servers.

"This a rate of change that is absolutely unheard of in the server market," he said in an interview with eWEEK.

SeaMicro is building its servers to process simple Web transactions, which don't need all the performance of mainstream Intel Xeon or Advanced Micro Devices Opteron processors. The systems are aimed at Internet businesses that cram their data centers with huge numbers of low-power servers, driving the need for energy efficiency, high density and low costs. The company's customers include Skype, Mozilla, Rogers Wireless and eHarmony.

"We set out to solve the data center's most important problems of power and space," Feldman said.

SeaMicro officials opted for Intel's Atom chips for their systems, a move they say has enabled them to create servers that use a fraction of the power and space as today's mainstream systems. The SM10000-64 HD can replace up to 60 1U (1.75-inch) dual-socket server with dual-core chips, while using a quarter of the power and a sixth of the space. Feldman also said the SeaMicro servers can cut TCO by as much as 80 percent.

Using the Atom chip also means that enterprises can run standard software for x86 systems, with no modifications needed. That was a key consideration for a new vendor looking to compete with the likes of Hewlett-Packard and Dell, Feldman said.

"When you're a startup, the last thing you want to do is show up with new hardware and tell a company that might be interested that -you need to recompile your software,'" he said.

That said, company officials continue to keep their options open. ARM, whose chip designs dominate the mobile device space but which has no traction in the server market, is looking to move up the ladder and into the data center. ARM officials have said they are interested in seeing their chips in low-power servers in such environments as cloud computing, and several chip makers that build ARM-based chips-such as Marvell Technologies and Nvidia-are interested in building those processors. In addition, Calxeda also is building ARM-based server chips.

Feldman said the demand for improved power and space efficiency came because mainstream servers did not keep up with the changing workloads of the Internet, workloads that Feldman described as "bursty," or capable of quickly rising or falling.

SeaMicro solved that problem by finding a highly efficient, low-power chip-the Atom-and reducing the components around the chip, he said. SeaMicro has pared away many of the components, leaving a motherboard that essentially is the size of a credit card and holds the Atom chip, SeaMicro's ASIC and DRAM. The motherboards are interconnected via a SeaMicro fabric. The SM10000-64 HD comprises 64 motherboards-as does the earlier SM10000-64-but with 384 dual-core Atom N570 chips, or 768 processing cores. The SM10000-64 runs 512 cores. Feldman said that in a server, the chip accounts for only about a third of the power consumption of a system, with the other components making up the rest.

SeaMicro's virtualization technologies have enabled the vendor to remove 90 percent of the components, according to company officials.

The I/O can transfer data at 1.5 terabits per second, and the system offers 1.5 terabytes of DDR3 memory, up to 64 SATA solid-state or hard drive disks, and one to eight 64 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks. The SM10000-64 HD systems are available now, starting at $237,000.