SAN JOSE, Calif. – Intel fellow and wunderkind Matthew Adiletta gave a history dating back to 2006 of how the company developed its Atom-based microserver. But he failed to shed much light on the future of the new processor which will face competition from a half dozen 64-bit ARM server SoCs in 2014.
“Intel will soon launch Centerton, a 64-bit, [dual core Atom processor] with ECC and server features—it’s just the first step and the road map coming will be compelling,” said Adiletta who helped develop Intel’s first network processor and now directs a lab that pioneered the Atom server work. Adiletta spoke on an Intel call on Thursday to brief the press on server strategy.
Hewlett-Packard said earlier this year that Centerton will be the first of several processors it will use in a new low power server family. Intel said it will roll a 22 nm version of the chip in 2013 called Avoton.
Industry reports said Avoton will sport a new out-of-order Atom core along with a DDR3 memory controller, multiple Gbit Ethernet MACs and support for serial ATA and PCI Express 2.0. Longer term, Intel has said it is working on a new cluster interconnect for all its server processors using technology acquired from Cray and others.
Adiletta confirmed Intel plans out-of-order Atom cores and more integrated SoCs with lower idle power levels, but would not give details.
“A lot of performance can be gained very quickly as we add sophistication to Atom cores,” Adiletta said. “We are finally doing well now with SoC integration and tool suites for integration with the right IP blocks,” he said
Initial Intel projections that low power microservers might grow to ten percent of the overall server segment are a “reasonable first approximation based on the parallel workloads this is well suited for, but the software is evolving,” he said. “Frankly I don’t think we know but if it gets to be more [than ten percent]…and I think our customers don’t know either,” he added.
Adiletta’s work toward microservers began in 2006 when Pat Gelsinger, then manager of Intel’s server group, asked him to meet with a Wall Street CTO who used blade servers. “I quickly appreciated the need for density for ease of cabling, management and quickly getting compute online,” Adiletta said.
In 2007, he started comparing performance per watt characteristics, developing integrated CPU cards using Atom and Core 2 Duo processors. When management asked for external validation of his findings, he took the Atom board to Andy Bechtolsheim, a serial entrepreneur who co-founded data center companies including Sun Microsystems and Arista Networks.
“It was a fun meeting--Andy reviewed all information and then shook his head,” Adiletta said. “He said it hurt his head to think of all the opportunities if we could realize this,” he recalled.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon used the boards for some of their studies in 2009 of fast arrays of so-called wimpy processors. By then Intel clearly saw some server workloads such as Hadoop that use many small highly parallel chunks of code would benefit from an Atom server.
“More chefs in the kitchen helps up to a point depending on what’s served,” he said.
By 2009, Intel started working on Centerton and its follow ons. “Intel has a head start in microservers, we are very bullish and have an excellent road map,” he said.
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