SANTA CLARA, Calif. – Progress establishing a foothold for the ARM architecture in the red-hot sever sector was evident at the company’s annual conference here. Intel Corp. owns the vast majority of the server processor market today, a business it depends on to offset the decline in PC processor sales and prices.
Applied Micro Circuits Corp. announced its third-generation ARM-based server SoC, the X-Gene 3 running at up to 3 GHz and made in a 16nm TSMC process will sample late next year. Engineers from EMC and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise (HPE) suggested they are developing storage systems running on ARM SoCs, and an IT manager from Morgan Stanley said he is testing ARM servers for one of his applications.
Applied CEO Paramesh Gopi held up a prototype X-Gene 3 at an ARM event. (EE Times image)
However, Red Hat noted it is only supporting ARM through a developer release of Linux. Before it can be commercially released, Red Hat needs to test the software on multiple motherboards using standard form factors, something that doesn’t yet exist.
“In June I would have said they are still 18-24 months away, but now I have reason to hope they will come much sooner – ask me in December,” a Red Hat representatives said.
HPE sells ARM-based servers on a non-standard board of its own design. ARM showed at the event photos of six other server boards from four other vendors, but they apparently do not meet Red Hat’s criteria.
Besides Applied, AMD also sells an ARM server SoC, Cavium and Texas Instruments are shipping parts more oriented to communications and embedded systems and Broadcom, Huawei and Qualcomm have announced recently for chips. Also, a startup in China announced in August plans for an ARM server SOC.
ARM told investors it believes its architecture will be used in 25% of all servers by 2020. Ubuntu and CentOS versions of Linux are currently available for today’s chips as is Java server software.
For its part, Applied is shipping its X-Gene 1 chips now and sampling its second generation parts. The third generation SoCs will sport significantly higher performance, in part due to an upgraded pipeline that executes more than four instructions per cycle. The chips also use a new PCI Express-based interconnect between cores and nodes.
X-Gene 3 will pack 32 cores, 42 PCIe Gen 3 links and support eight DDR4 memory channels running at up to 2,667 MHz. By contrast Intel’s high-end Xeon server processors now support just four memory channels, but are often ganged into two- and four-processor systems.
“There is no more 2P or 4P,” said Applied’s CEO Paramesh Gopi, announcing the new chip and the interconnect it will detail at next week’s supercomputer conference. The SoC “breaks the socket barrier with a new technology that is a ground-up new interconnect that allows many cores to scale linearly” but unlike Intel’s QPI is not proprietary and could link 256 cores on nodes with 2 TBytes memory each, he said.
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