SAN JOSE, Calif. – Hewlett-Packard’s processor-agnostic Moonshot server officially adds today another board to its menu of options – the Saturn 1 from SRC Computers. The deal is the first big step into the commercial limelight for SRC that has been quietly selling its boards mainly to government users since 2002.
Moonshot is a chassis with a passive backplane that can host a variety of processor and networking cards. HP launched the system in October 2013 using Intel microserver processors and in late September 2014 added options for ARM-based cards using chips from Applied Micro and Texas Instruments.
HP would not disclose how many of the non-x86 versions of Moonshot it has sold so far. But it did say it has more than 20 reference customers and run more than 275 customer proof-of-concepts in its four Moonshot labs.
SRC hopes to fuel Moonshot sales with its $20,000 4U card (pictured below) that hosts two Altera Stratix IV 530 FPGAs. The company claims the 45W board delivers 100 times the performance of an x86 server while using one percent of its power. The board also hosts a four-core Intel Atom chip for housekeeping duties and supports multiple Gbit Ethernet links to the Moonshot backplane.
The dual-Stratix IV SRC Saturn 1 rides HP's 4U Moonshot server.
The company was co-founded in 1996 by supercomputer guru Seymour Cray. Its secret sauce is its Carte compiler that automatically turns users’ C-level code into FPGA-readable firmware, eliminating the need for often complex Verilog-level FPGA programming tools. The FPGA also lets users quickly change code as workloads shift.
SRC gives each new user a three-day workshop on programming its boards. They tend to keep some of the legacy code on an x86 and put the algorithms most suitable for FPGA acceleration in the Carte environment. “Most customers leave the three-day class with their code running,” said Dave Eaton, vice president of sales and marketing at SRC.
The Saturn 1 is actually the eighth-generation SRC board. Early products were used for jobs such as radar signal processing in military aircraft that wanted the most powerful and smallest computers available.
Now SRC wants to get a slice of the growing market for servers in big data centers. Microsoft already uses Altera FPGAs on cards it designs to accelerate applications such as its Bing search.
“We’ve been running workloads of Web services companies -- anything that requires thousands of x86 processors could benefit greatly from SRC,” said Eaton.
Whether HP’s Moonshot or SRC gets a big boost from the current deal remains to be seen.
“Having a design win in Moonshot is only good if people are buying Moonshot and want the version with their card -- there are probably a dozen modules that fit into that chassis,” said Linley Gwennap principal of market watcher The Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.).
“There is interest in alternative server architectures, but I haven’t heard much about deployment of Moonshot or ARM-based servers in general,” said Gwennap. “AMD [one of a handful of top ARM-server SoC vendors] doesn’t have any customers in production, Applied Micro says they have some, but reported maybe a million dollars in revenue which might be 10,000 chips,” he added.
SRC won’t depend solely on HP’s Moonshot for its push into commercial data centers. Eaton claims the company already has a handful of data center customers some of whom are asking for other form factors such as 1U systems which it will design and have made by contract manufacturers.
— Rick Merritt, Silicon Valley Bureau Chief, EE Times