Hewlett-Packard is unveiling two ARM-based servers as part of its Moonshot family of highly energy-efficient systems, a move that finally brings to market what the industry has been anticipating for years.
HP officials on Sept. 29 announced that the company has begun shipping the new systems—including the 64-bit ProLiant m400, which is powered by Applied Micro’s eight-core X-Gene system-on-a-chip (SoC)—and will demonstrate the servers at ARM’s TechCon 2014 show Oct. 1-3 in Santa Clara, Calif.
Officials with ARM and its various manufacturing partners—including Applied Micro, Advanced Micro Devices, Cavium and Marvell Technologies—for the past several years have been talking about extending the reach of ARM’s low-power chip designs into the data center, where there is increasing demand not only for greater performance but for better energy efficiency. ARM’s SoC designs—which are licensed by chip manufacturers, which build their own features atop the design and then sell the chips—are found in the bulk of smartphones and tablets on the market today.
ARM executives as far back as 2011 have talked about the natural progression of the company’s architecture into low-power servers. ARM has since developed its ARMv8-A 64-bit architecture, and with HP’s Moonshot systems, the first systems are hitting the market.
“It really signals the beginning,” Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy, told eWEEK. “Up to this point, it’s been samples, previews and design wins. It’s the real deal now.”
It also opens up another front in ARM’s growing competition with Intel, which is trying to make inroads into the mobile device space, hoping to chip away at some of ARM’s dominant market share. While Intel executives have questioned how large a part of the server market the microserver space will account for in the coming years, they have not sat idly by awaiting the arrival of ARM-based 64-bit servers. The company has leveraged its low-power Atom platform for microservers, and last year launched the second-generation C2000 “Avoton” SoCs. The company will follow up next year with the 14-nanometer “Denverton” chip.
“Intel has a robust lineup and more is on the way,” Moorhead said.
The first of the HP Moonshot systems are powered by x86 chips from Intel and AMD. However, HP officials have said since launching the initiative in 2011 that ARM chips will be a key to the Moonshot effort, and Paul Santeler, vice president and general manager of HP’s Moonshot Business Unit, told eWEEK that more ARM-based systems will be announced later this year.
Dell is another system vendor that has put ARM into servers with its “Copper” and “Zinc” projects, and also offers a proof-of-concept effort that enables programmers to access systems over the Internet that use Applied Micro chips and are housed at a Dell Solutions Center in Texas. Dell is ready to move forward with the ARM servers when businesses start asking about it, but Dell executives have said end-user demand is not clear and that some interest may have waned while waiting for the first 64-bit ARM chips to come to market.
Santeler said HP is hearing from enterprises that want ARM-based systems for particular workloads, saying that ARM technology is being introduced to a market that is rapidly changing due to the demands from such trends as mobile computing, big data and the cloud.
“They’re taking the training wheels off the bike,” he said.
HP’s Moonshot systems are what officials call cartridges or modules that fit into a 4.3U (7.5-inch) chassis. The modules share such components as storage, networking, cooling and management, which are housed in the chassis. The ProLiant m400, which is powered by Applied Micro’s X-Gene 1 SoC (Applied Micro has begun sampling its next-generation X-Gene 2 chips), includes 64GB of attached memory, a small solid-state disk with 120GB to 480GB of capacity, and a 10 Gigabit Ethernet network interface card (NIC) from Mellanox Technologies. The system is designed for such workloads as dynamic Web content delivery, using such technologies as in-memory key-value caching to reduce the burden on databases.
HP Unveils ARM-Based Moonshot Servers
The m400 comes with Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux operating system, and with its power, cooling and space efficiencies, reduces the total cost of ownership over rack servers by 35 percent, according to HP officials.
HP also is unveiling the ProLiant m800, powered by 32-bit 66AK2Hx SoCs from Texas Instruments based on the Keystone architecture, and which include four ARM Cortex-A15 cores, integrated digital signal processors (DSPs) and HP’s 2D Torus Mesh Fabric. It also comes with the Ubuntu OS. The system is targeted at real-time data processing of high-volume and complex data, such as pattern analysis, according to HP officials.
The vendor also is looking to ramp up the ecosystem around ARM-based server SoCs with a developer program in which developers will be able to access an ARM-based 64-bit system housed at HP’s ProLiant Moonshot Discovery Lab. By accessing the system via the Internet, developers will be able to test and port code and solutions to the ARM architecture.
While the horse race between Intel and ARM may get much of the attention from HP’s announcement, the real key for enterprises and service providers continues to be the move by system and component makers to more heterogeneous computing, with systems running a mix of technologies and aimed at particular workloads, according to Moor Insights and Strategy’s Moorhead.
He pointed to HP’s use of not only ARM chips in Moonshot systems, but also of Intel and AMD silicon, and the promise of more systems leveraging other vendor chips on the way. Chip makers like Applied Micro and Texas Instruments are including DSPs integrated into their SoCs, system makers are offering servers that use accelerators like GPUs from AMD and Nvidia and x86 Xeon Phi coprocessors from Intel to increase performance and power efficiencies, and Intel is offering a range of features—such as its Iris GPUs, QPI bus, AES-NI encryption and field-programmable gate arrays (FGPAs) –to broaden the application-specific capabilities of its silicon.
In addition, when Intel introduces new generations of chips—such as the Xeon E5-2600 v3, rolled out in September—it offers as many as two-dozen versions with varying capabilities in such areas as frequency and memory to enable greater optimization for particular workloads.
Intel also this month unveiled its Xeon D, the first SoC in the Xeon chip family, and continues to develop custom chips for particular customers.
The result of all this choice in the data center is that end users can more easily get servers that are optimized for their applications, which is a significant win for enterprises as they deal with rapidly changing workloads, Moorhead said.