AMD Gets Microserver Boost From HP Moonshot, Texas School

Microservers are a key part of AMD's turnaround strategy, as illustrated by its use in HP's Moonshot efforts and adoption by UTSA.

Advanced Micro Devices executives in October 2012 said a key to turning around the chip maker was focusing its efforts on several key market areas, including low-power servers aimed at dense data centers like Web 2.0 and cloud computing environments.

Microservers from the company's SeaMicro business would be a key part of that strategy, Lisa Su, senior vice president and general manager of AMD's global business units, said at the time. AMD's plan to invest in microservers came to the forefront this week, thanks to Hewlett-Packard and the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA).

HP officials at the April 9 launch of their new low-power Project Moonshot servers—running Intel's Centerton Atom chips—said future models coming out later this year will feature processors from other chip makers as well, including AMD and ARM partners like Calxeda and Texas Instruments. On April 11, AMD announced that UTSA is deploying SeaMicro SM15000-OP servers that hold 1,024 processor cores and will form the basis of an infrastructure for a new computing cloud used for research.

During the tenure of CEO Rory Read, AMD has rapidly reshaped how it is approaching the server market as organizations look for more dense and energy-efficient systems for their rapidly changing data centers, which are under pressure from such trends as cloud computing, mobility, virtualization and big data. AMD officials see an opportunity in the burgeoning microserver market.

AMD in February 2012 bought SeaMicro, a microserver company that had been working closely with Intel and brought with it its supercompute fabric, called Freedom Fabric. Over the past year, SeaMicro has continued to offer systems powered by Intel Xeon and Atom chips as well as AMD Opteron processors, and AMD officials have told journalists that the company is evaluating Intel's upcoming "Avoton" Atom chips for future systems.

The adoption of SeaMicro servers by UTSA was a good win for the company and the university, which will be able to leverage a cloud environment—Rackspace's Private Cloud Software—for its research based on a high-performing and energy-efficient infrastructure, according to Dhiraj Mallick, corporate vice president and general manager of data center server solutions for AMD.

"As the computing backbone of UTSA's cloud infrastructure, AMD's SeaMicro SM15000 server will provide researchers tremendous computing power and storage to help them make breakthrough discoveries in a variety of disciplines," Mallick said in a statement. "This infrastructure will help the university attract top talent, increase competitiveness for research funding, and advance towards designation as a premier research institution."

C. Mauli Agrawal, dean of UTSA's College of Engineering, said that the "world-class computing advances UTSA's cutting-edge research and discovery of new knowledge. As an emerging research university, this project supports our mission of providing world-class education, outstanding research and economic contributions to the region."

AMD officials said the SeaMicro SM15000 is the highest-density and most energy-efficient server on the market. In 10 rack units, the system links 512 cores, 160 gigabits of I/O, more than 5 petabytes of storage and 1.28 terabytes of performance, thanks to the Freedom Fabric. It saves space, power and costs by eliminating top-of-rack switches, terminal servers, hundreds of cables and thousands of components.

Meanwhile, AMD technology will be used by Hewlett-Packard in its Project Moonshot efforts. HP officials told The Inquirer news site that while Intel's Centerton and Avoton Atom chips may be most used for general-purpose computing, they touted the graphics capabilities of AMD's accelerated processing units (APUs), and that a Moonshot server cartridge that will roll out in the second half of 2013 will use AMD's upcoming low-power "Kyoto" chip. The Kyoto chip will have a power envelope of 11 watts, according to The Inquirer.

In addition, AMD last year announced it would start building server chips based on ARM's designs, and will begin selling those chips starting in 2014. Those chips could find their way into not only AMD's SeaMicro servers, but also HP Moonshot systems.

However, as a reminder that AMD will be a partner and a rival, HP officials also told several Websites that while AMD's SeaMicro microservers were good and were the first to hit the market, their own Moonshot systems were more open.