For the past dozen-plus years, SRC Computers has been selling a range of high-performance computing solutions to defense and intelligence agencies, building a successful business while staying under the radar in a server market dominated by the likes of IBM, Hewlett-Packard and Dell.
The company was launched with the mission of developing a new computing platform that included integrated hardware and software by an engineering team that created more than 1,000 patents and spent more than $100 million in development. SRC offers a range of servers, from rack-mounted 1U (1.75-inch) and 2U (3.5-inch) systems to highly scalable offerings.
Founded in 1996 by Jim Guzy and Seymour R. Cray (the “SRC” in the company’s name and the founder of supercomputer maker Cray), SRC is making its first foray into the commercial server market with a compute module aimed at the growing hyperscale and Web-scale computing spaces. SRC said the new module will offer 100 times the performance of traditional systems powered by Intel’s x86 server processors.
SRC announced the Saturn 1 on May 28. It is a dynamically reconfigurable server based on a new computing architecture that leverages field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) in a way that enables customers to significantly speed up performance and use 1 percent of the power and space of traditional servers at about 25 percent of the cost.
The Saturn 1 is designed to enable FPGAs to run hyperscale and Web-scale workloads much faster than x86 chips from t Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, according to David Eaton, vice president of sales and marketing at SRC. The growing demand for greater performance-per-watt from servers and for greater data center capacity is putting strains on x86 processors, Eaton told eWEEK. Server makers are throwing thousands of general-purpose chips at workloads that are based on very specific applications.
“That’s not really what the processors were made to do,” he said. “We think the market conditions are right for another way to elegantly run software.”
SRC said the company’s technology enables programmers to custom program the user and system FPGAs using common development languages like standard C syntax. This makes it easier and faster to tailor the processor for the workload and then to execute the code directly onto the processor. SRC’s Carte Programming Environment’s compiler converts the development code to the silicon, which can be changed on what SRC called a “subroutine to subroutine basis.”
SRC said some organizations have been able to port their applications to the Saturn 1 in three days.
The server uses standard, off-the-shelf processors and FPGAs, including an Intel x86 chip for general-purpose workloads, according to Mark Tellez, director of business development for SRC. What the company’s technology does is enable the FPGA to use 100 percent of its resources and have direct access to memory, Tellez told eWEEK.
The Saturn 1 is being introduced as a compute module for HP’s highly dense and energy-efficient Moonshot platform. Forty-two server cartridges can be used in a 4U (7-inch) chassis while using about 2 kilowatts of power, with nine chassis per rack at about 20,000 kilowatts.
SRC Makes Move Into Commercial Server Space With Saturn 1
FPGAs are gaining traction in the server space as accelerators, with Intel using the reprogrammable chips from Altera for some of its custom chips for hyperscale and high-end applications. Intel reportedly is now looking to buy Altera. Juniper Networks in April announced it was using Altera FPGAs in some of its upcoming network switches, and Microsoft last year said it would use FPGAs as part of an effort to improve performance in its data centers.
Dan Olds, CEO and principal analyst at Gabriel Consulting, said that “an FPGA is kind of like a blank canvas. It can do a lot of great things, but it needs to be aligned with the workloads” that organizations want to run. That can be “blindingly fast because they are single-purpose devices,” Olds told eWEEK.
He said that if SRC’s claims pan out, the company’s server architecture could have a big impact on the industry, particularly for such workloads as high-performance computing (HPC) applications and big data analytics in such markets as financial services.
“This could be a very interesting product,” Olds said.
Hooking up with HP’s Moonshot program gives SRC credibility as it makes its way into the commercial server space, as does the fact that among the company’s founders was Cray, who is a prominent figure in the HPC and supercomputer spaces. They key for the company now is being able to prove the lofty performance gains that officials are claiming, he said.
SRC said Jingit, a startup aimed at improving marketing incentive and customer loyalty programs, saw a 500-fold improvement in the performance of its workloads by using SRC’s FPGA architecture. The company expects significant improvements in performance in everything from real-time transaction processing to signal processing to mobile device infrastructure.
The Saturn 1 is available directly from SRC and through resellers, starting at $19,995.