Intel Sampling Xeon D SoC for Microservers, Networking, Storage

The processor eventually will join two other 64-bit Atom-based SoCs aimed at dense data center environments, a segment also being targeted by ARM.

Xeon processor

SAN FRANCISCO—Intel has begun sampling its upcoming 14-nanometer Xeon processor aimed at dense, low-power servers as well as low-end networking and entry-level storage devices.

Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center Group, said Sept. 10 during her keynote here at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) 2014 show that the Xeon system-on-a-chip (SoC), based on the company's "Broadwell" architecture, is the third generation of Intel's low-power silicon aimed at systems that run in massive, highly dense hyperscale data centers, where power efficiency and workload optimization can be more important than raw performance.

The company is sampling the Xeon D among its customers. Intel last week launched the first of its chips based on Broadwell, the Core M, targeting PCs.

Intel in late 2012 released the Atom S1200 "Centerton," the first SoC aimed at the nascent microserver space. A year later, the company launched the Atom C2000 "Avoton," the second generation in the roadmap. Both those SoCs were based on the company's low-power Atom platform, which was originally developed for netbooks, but has since moved up the ladder to other devices and into the data center.

Xeon D represents the first SoC in the Xeon family, a move Intel officials first unveiled on the roadmap in July 2013.

Bryant released few details about the 22-nanometer Xeon E3 chip, saying only that it will consume 15 watts. She did not talk about when it would officially launch, but Bryant and other company officials last year said the SoC would offer such integrated features as I/O and accelerators. Intel officials have said the chip will be released in the first half of next year.

Patty Kummrow, director of SoC development at Intel, joined Bryant on stage to talk about the various tools Intel can bring to SoCs to enable easier workload optimization, from software accelerators to field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) to instruction set architecture, such as AES-NI encryption technology.

"No one can bring this arsenal of capabilities," Bryant said.

Intel introduced the first Atom SoC for the data center in response to both the growing need of businesses for faster, more flexible and more optimized hardware and the growing interest by ARM and its manufacturing partners in bringing the low-power ARM architecture—found in most smartphones and tablets—to the data center.

ARM officials for several years have said the company's designs combined with support from such chip makers like Advanced Micro Devices, Applied Micro, Cavium and Marvell Technologies and the increasing use of open-source workloads in the data center give organizations an alternative to Intel, which holds as much as 95 percent of the server chip space.

With ARM's 64-bit ARMv8-A architecture now in the hands of chip makers, systems powered by ARM-based SoCs are expected to start rolling out later this year and into 2015. How successful ARM will be still needs to be seen. It has the backing of Hewlett-Packard—whose executives say they plan to release ARM-based Moonshot systems this fall—and Dell is prepared to build ARM-based systems if the demand is there. In addition, AMD is putting a lot of effort behind its efforts and has an aggressive roadmap planned out for the next few years around ARM SoCs. ARM officials earlier this year said the company had signed its 50th licensing agreement for ARMv8-A, with 27 companies signing deals. That includes four of the top five chip makers for servers and networking gear, they said.

However, the ARM server chip market was dealt a blow in December when pioneer Calxeda was forced to shut down after running out of money, and some analysts—and even Dell's top server executive—have wondered whether ARM and its partners have been too late getting silicon to market, giving Intel the chance to leverage its massive engineering and manufacturing capabilities to pull away from ARM.

Intel executives have said that having a single architecture—not only in hardware, but in development tools and software—is increasingly important in a data center world where workloads are changing rapidly thanks to such trends as cloud computing, mobility, big data and the cloud.

Intel already is seeing some success with its 64-bit SoCs, Bryant said. Since the release of Centeron, there have been 95 productions systems on the market leveraging the chips, most of them—54—coming in the networking segment. Another 24 are in storage systems, with 17 in microservers, she said.

Editor's note: This story was changed to correct the spelling of Patty Kummrow's name.