SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Facebook-led Open Compute Project (OCP) announced a specification for a plug-in board that can accommodate a variety of ARM- and x86-based server SoCs. Applied Micro Circuits Corp. and Calxeda are among SoC vendors contributing board-level designs that meet the spec and use their ARM SoCs.
With the news, Facebook becomes the first major data center to open the door to ARM SoCs in servers. An executive for the social networking giant told EE Times late last year that Facebook might find some low volume roles for 32-bit ARM SoCs, but that it sees no widespread use of the architecture in host server processors until 64-bit parts are available, probably in 2014 or beyond.
Separately, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) announced it has financial services customers testing board designs it submitted to OCP last May. In addition, Mellanox is showing an integrated networking product for data centers at the Open Compute Summit here.
With OCP, Facebook is encouraging large and small data centers and their vendors to set common specs for servers and other data center gear to lower costs. Facebook competitors such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft specify custom server boards and other data center gear but don’t openly share details of those designs.
Applied Micro announced it developed a board design that uses its X-Gene 64-bit ARM server SoC and complies with the new OCP spec. The so-called Common Slot specification announced at the summit can accommodate all SoC architecture types.
Calxeda will show this week a 32-bit ARM SoC board that could be used as a storage controller for a disk drive array like this controller board in Facebook’s Open Vault.(To view a slideshow detailing Facebook's Open Compute project, click on the image).
Applied said it is on track to sample silicon for X-Gene to key customers before the end of the quarter. “As the first to deliver silicon based on the ARM 64-bit architecture, Applied Micro gives consumers an opportunity to evaluate the benefits of this compelling processor architecture,” said Frank Frankovsky, chairman of the Open Compute Foundation and vice president of hardware design and supply chain at Facebook, in a prepared statement.
“An alternative processor architecture such as ARM, coupled with open source software, has the potential to radically increase the amount of compute power we can get from the energy we consume and the money we spend,” Frankovsky said.
“An ARM 64-bit server motherboard design has the potential to reach the data center by the end of this year,” Paramesh Gopi, president and CEO of Applied Micro, said in the statement.
Separately, Calxeda showed a Common Slot board at the summit using its 32-bit ARM-based SoC. It also demoed Project Knockout, an ARM-based board that can be used as a controller for disk arrays in the OCP Open Vault storage spec. In addition, Calxeda partnered with Avnet Embedded to show other data center designs it will release in the fall.
“Partners like Calxeda are critical to bringing creative new design options to the Open Compute Project community, and we applaud their technical contributions to the project,” Frankovsky said in a Calxeda statement.
Calxeda is currently shipping a 32-bit ARM server SoC. It has announced plans for a 64-bit version that will ship in 2014.
AMD and Intel will also support the Common Slot spec with x86 server chips.
The timing is clear. Applied expects to sample widely late this year and everybody (6+ companies) will have something shipping or sampling in 2014.
Impact is less clear. This is a relatively small volume market where Intel has had $100+ ASPs that will likely now be closer to $20. Can you hear the gears grinding?
ARM is not doing much by themselves, other than proving some "good enough" stock chips. It's all the other companies who are using ARM that you should be looking at, and some of them even have their own custom ARM cores. Also HP is already using ARM servers, and they will probably expand on it.
ARM would appear to have a limited appeal for servers in the data center but for the fact it is an energy-sipping technology. Once 64-bit ARM chips are available, we'll see. Charlie Babcock, editor at large, InformationWeek
I think many underestimate the impact that silicon photonics could have. Silicon photonics will eventually allow for optical chip-to-chip data transfers that will drastically reduce energy consumption.
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