Intel Talks Server Design, Atom, Xeon Chips at IDF Beijing

The chip giant is looking to grow its reach in the data center, not only with new processors but also a push into rack architecture and server design.

Intel officials say the giant chip maker will play a significant role in the way future data center infrastructures are built, operated and managed.

That role will still include processors—the chip giant has an aggressive launch schedule for chips for data center systems in 2013 that include new Atom and Xeon processors—but also will increasingly move into how the servers themselves are designed.

During her keynote speech April 9 at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Datacenter and Connected Systems Group, outlined the chip maker’s vision of systems that not only are powered by Intel processors, but also are designed and built using Intel technology, ranging from networking to storage.

During a recent briefing with reporters to outline Intel vision, Lisa Graff, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Datacenter Marketing Group, said Intel is working on reference designs for “a rack-scale architecture” and already is working with some top-tier Chinese Web companies and telecommunications vendors in what is called Project Scorpio, aimed at building server racks that share components like power, cooling and networking.

For the reference architectures that will start rolling out next year, Graff said Intel was engaging in similar collaboration.

"We're working with end users, OEMs, and ISVs to drive common standards in a reference architecture," she said, adding what Intel will offer will be something organizations can build upon. “Our reference architecture isn’t a recipe. … Others can use what they want; they can pick and choose.”

Graff noted that that the changing demands for bandwidth, processing power, energy efficiency and storage—brought on by such trends as cloud computing, big data, increased services and more mobile computing devices hitting the network—are driving the need for new architectures in the data center.

Her comments echoed a key theme that was talked about April 8, when Hewlett-Packard unveiled the first of its ultra-dense, highly-efficient Project Moonshot servers: The demands in the data center are changing, and the infrastructure within the data centers will have to change along with it.

Intel over the past several years has aggressively been building its capabilities in several areas beyond its traditional processor technologies, including networking, storage, security and software. The company has been bringing many of those capabilities onto the silicon, but also will use them in helping create a fabric for the data center. For example, in February, Intel released its own Hadoop distribution for big data environments. The Intel Hadoop offering has been used by several companies in China by carrier China Mobile and traffic management company Bocom.

Intel officials want to bring the idea of balanced systems from the servers to the racks to create groupings of servers, storage and networking products that are more modular, efficient and dense. That’s already happening to some extent, with non-essential sheet metal taken out of the racks and components such as fans and power supplies taken from servers and put into the rack, where they are shared by all servers, Graff said.

There also are what she called emerging trends of removing storage from compute systems and leveraging storage virtualization for greater utilization, a move that is enabled through the development of a compute and network fabric that allows the separation of storage from the server without hindering performance. Graff pointed to Intel’s Silicon Photonics interconnects as technology that brings higher speed connections between systems within the rack.