Intel Plots Integrated Fabric Controller For Xeon Chips

Datacentre © Leo Lintang -

To provide better cloud and HPC performance, Intel will in future integrate a fabric controller into its server chips

Intel is to add to the memory controller and graphics capabilities on its processors, by integrating the compute fabric controller on its server chips within the next few years.

The move, according to officials, will speed up performance, improve scalability and enhance energy efficiency in data centres.

No Timeframe

An integrated converged fabric controller will eventually be included in the chip maker’s Xeon server processors, according to Raj Hazra, vice president of the company’s Intel Architecture Group and general manager of technical computing at Intel. However, Hazra would not say when the integration would occur.

The move will come as enterprises increase their adoption cloud computing and virtualisation, as big data takes an increasingly big role in business and as Web-based companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon look for ways to grow the performance and scalability of their massive data centres while looking to drive down the costs of powering and cooling them.

Data centre fabrics essentially enable enterprises to more easily scale their data centre compute capabilities, and more closely link storage and networking technologies, Hazra told eWEEK a few days before the kickoff of the chip vendor’s Intel Developer Forum 2012 show in San Francisco, which officially starts 12 September.

A fabric helps businesses address the growing needs for lower latency, greater bandwidth, improved compute density and low power in data centres by connecting the various systems and components, from chips and memory to servers, storage and network, according to Hazra. Having a converged fabric controller integrated on the processor will enable fabrics to more efficiently and intelligently move data around the data centre while allowing for smaller, more dense and more power-efficient servers.

It also will help fabrics better direct data around data centres that can incorporate multiple interconnect technologies, from Ethernet to InfiniBand to PCI-Express (PCIe). And different computing environments require different jobs from their fabrics, he said, from high-performance computing (HPC) clusters – which demand greater bandwidth, power, scalability and message rates – and public clouds (bandwidth and scalability) to enterprise applications (bandwidth) and microservers (density, power and scalabilty).

“There’s no one fabric, and in many cases, as with HPC and cloud, it’s often more than just one,” Hazra said.

Fabric Controller

An integrated fabric controller – currently fabric controllers are found outside the processor – will result in fewer components in the server node itself, reduced power consumption by getting rid of the system I/O interface and greater efficiency and performance. According to Hazra, the bandwidth along the PCIe system I/O interface between the processor runs and fabric controller runs at 32GB per second; the bandwidth from the fabric controller into the fabric runs at 10 to 20 Gbps. With an integrated fabric controller, the system I/O interface not only is eliminated, but the controller will offer a bandwidth of more than 100 Gbps, he said.

Intel already has much of its fabric story in place, he said, from its Xeon chips and Xeon Phi coprocessors – as well as its low-power Atom platform – to various data management solutions, HPC tools, and Ethernet, InfiniBand and HPC interconnect technologies. In addition, Intel over the past couple of years has been aggressive in acquiring other technologies that will factor into its fabric efforts, from its acquisition in 2011 of Fulcrum Microsystems for its Ethernet solutions to the $125 million (£78m) it paid for QLogic’s InfiniBand IP and the $140 million (£87m) for supercomputer maker Cray’s HPC interconnect solutions this year.

Intel is not the only chip maker pursuing integrated fabric capabilities. Rival Advanced Micro Devices in February bought microserver maker SeaMicro for $334 million (£208m). SeaMicro had been selling systems based on Intel’s Atom chips. A key to AMD’s purchase was the ability to get SeaMicro’s Freedom Fabric technology, which handles storage and networking virtualisation.

Charles King, principal analyst with Pund-IT Research, said in a research note at the time of the acquisition that SeaMicro’s Freedom Fabric “is really the jewel in the crown of the AMD deal. Not only should the Freedom technology bolster AMD’s considerable efforts in high performance and supercomputing, but the company’s OEM customers that are focused on those and related cloud and Web 2.0 markets (which is to say, most all of them) will likely consider the technology a valuable addition to their solution quivers.”

For their part, Intel executives said they considered buying SeaMicro, but eventually passed, noting that they had their own microserver and fabric efforts under way.

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