SAN JOSE, Calif. Startup SeaMicro announced Monday (June 14) a server that packs 512 Intel Atom processors in a 10U chassis to deliver the same performance at a fraction of their power and space as systems using conventional server CPUs.
The SM1000 is one of the first in an expected wave of servers that will use Atom or ARM-based processors originally designed for mobile systems. They aim to address the needs of the warehouse-sized data centers of companies such as Google and Facebook increasingly limited by the cost and complexity of the power and space they consume.
The Atom and ARM chips are not expected to be useful for all server tasks given their relatively limited memory and I/O subsystems and other shortcomings. However, a growing group of engineers are convinced they will provide superior performance per watt for a range of Web 2.0 applications.
SeaMicro claims its system use about a quarter the power and space of a Dell R610 server using Intel's latest 32nm Westmere Xeon processors while delivering the same 100,000 SpecInt performance. The startup plans to ship systems in July and has already booked sales to multiple users.
|Sea Micro chief executive Andrew Feldman holds a server card using eight Intel Atom processors and four of the company's dual-die ASICs.|
"Using today's server processors is like driving the space shuttle to the supermarket--they
do a lot of things that are overkill for pushing an Apache fork," said Andrew Feldman, chief executive of SeaMicro, referring the kinds of Web services handled in many data centers.
"We become important to people that have more than 100 servers," said Feldman."At that level power and space begin to be meaningful to you," he said.
SeaMicro developed an ASIC that links 1.6 GHz single-core Z530 Atom chips in large clusters. The ASIC also replaces other server components such as storage and network controllers, further shrinking the system's power and size.
Feldman claims Atom provides significantly better performance per watt on Web server jobs than other chips it tested, including dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processors. However it has designed its approach to be able to work with other CPUs in the future.
"Today the Atom part is head and shoulders best in class, but ARM is running hard," said Feldman. "If we had a server SoC rather than a chip set, we could have doubled the number of CPUs in the system," he added.
Marvell said it will deliver later this year dual-core ARM Cortex A9 chips targeted at servers. Dell said it will test the chips this summer, HP Labs recently talked about its research in the area, and an executive for IBM expressed interest in the trend.
ARM chip makers Nvidia and Samsung are also interested in the servers, said Feldman. When SeaMicro was testing processors the Marvell chips "weren’t quite ready, but they are coming," said Feldman.
Market researchers are skeptical about how much traction the new designs will get and how soon. Competitors said the trend to low power servers is clearly on their radar screens.
“We are seeing increasing interest in power efficient servers," said Paul Prince, chief technology officer for Dell's enterprise group.
Prince said Dell has a broad line of servers including custom designs built for big data centers using the Via Nano processor.
"The claimed power savings [of the SeaMicro design] are impressive, [and] users who have massive scale-out requirements and use home-grown or open-source software may find the offering very attractive," said Nathan Brookwood, principal of market watcher Insight64 (Saratoga, Calif.).
However, "users who pay for software based on the number of CPUs their software uses will probably find multicore Xeons and Opterons to be a better choice, and users who worry about data integrity may be turned off by Atom's lack of ECC support," he added.