Intel Looks To Create Energy Efficient “Microservers”


Intel officials say that demand is growing for servers that are small, relatively cheap and energy-efficient

Intel is looking to create a new category in the server space: the “microserver.”

During his keynote address at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on 22 Sept., Sean Maloney, newly installed executive vice president and general manager of the chip maker’s Intel Architecture Group, unveiled two low-power new versions of its Xeon 3400 line, a 45-watt model that will roll out later this year and a 30-watt chip that will come out in the first quarter of 2010.

Maloney also expanded on other plans Intel has for its server offerings, from the high-end Itanium processors to a collection of Xeons with varying degrees of graphics capabilities.

The microserver space will grow in importance as businesses continue to adopt such computing models as cloud computing and technologies like virtualization, driving demand for smaller servers that are relatively cheap and consume low amounts of power.

Up to 25 percent of a company’s IT budget is eaten up by power costs, Maloney said. In addition, he said that by 2012, about a quarter of all servers will be used in a cloud environment.

He pointed to SGI’s CloudRack X2 enclosure, announced in August, as an example of a microserver architecture. Maloney also showed an Intel-developed microserver—a reference design—that can put 16 modules in a 5U (8.75-inch) enclosure.

Andy Bechtolsheim, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems and more recently the founder of Arista Networks, came to the stage to talk about the need of such system designs, particularly given the demand for greater scalability.

“The infrastructure that goes into the data center has to be as cost-efficient and power-efficient as possible,” Bechtolsheim said.

He pointed to the work at Arista on 10 Gigabit Ethernet as evidence of the rising demand being put on data centers and networks. Shipments of 10GbE products are expected to double every year into at least 2012, he said.

Maloney also brought up “Jasper Forest,” a 45-nm “Nehalem” processor aimed at the embedded, storage and communications sectors. Intel officials are looking to use Jasper Forest as a way of growing the reach of the Nehalem architecture into a space that Intel officials say was worth $1 billion in revenue to the company in 2008.

To bring the architecture to the embedded space, Intel engineers integrated virtualisation capabilities, PCI Express 2.0 and RAID 6 onto a Nehalem-based chip.

Maloney also said that despite delays, Itanium remains an important part of Intel’s server game plan. The next version of Itanium—dubbed “Tukwila”—has been delayed at least twice and is now due in the first quarter of 2010.

He also said that Intel already has plans for two versions after Tukwila.

In the client space, Maloney showed off “Larrabee,” which brings greater graphics capabilities to the Xeon family. Intel officials said the first Larrabee chip will offer a discrete graphics chip, though that will be followed by tighter integration of the CPU and graphics.

Larrabee will first appear in the first quarter of 2010 with Intel’s “Gulftown” chip, a six-core processor. “Clarkdale” will follow, and will include a tighter bond between the CPU and graphics chip, which will be on the same module.

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