SeaMicro Packs Xeon Chips Into A Microserver Architecture


SeaMicro’s SM10000-XE applies its Intel Atom microserver concept to the Xeon chip to green up the data centre

SeaMicro, which has been selling low-power microservers running on Intel’s Atom processors, is now rolling out a system powered by Xeon processors.

The SM10000-XE, an Intel Xeon-based system, has the same design introduced by the company in 2010 for its Atom-based servers. The company says this arrangement will offer the same performance as 32 dual-socket servers, while consuming half the power and a third of the space.

Small footprint, low power

Combined with SeaMicro’s current Atom-based servers, the SM1000-XE will enable businesses to run low-power, high-performing microservers throughout their environments.

“We want to bring the benefits [of the SeaMicro systems] to all parts of the scale-out data centre,” SeaMicro CEO Andrew Feldman said.

The SM10000-XE is a 10U (15-inch) rack server that holds 64 low-power quad-core Xeon E3-1260L chips, giving the system 1,024 cores in a standard rack. The goal is to make it a complement to the previous Atom-based 10U systems that SeaMicro has introduced. Those servers were designed more for lightweight Internet workloads, Feldman said. The new system is aimed at cloud, Web database and app-tier applications – such as Java, PHP, MySQL and CouchDB – that need more performance.

With the new system, SeaMicro is giving businesses more choices depending on whether they need more speed or better energy efficiency. And it is doing so while still keeping the power consumption low. Compared with other Xeon-based systems, the SM10000-XE offers half the power, three times the density and 12 times the bandwidth, he said.

Looking forward, Feldman said he expects to sell more of the Xeon-based systems than the Atom-powered servers, in large part because of Xeon’s established presence in the server space.

Intel officials in 2009 began talking about a new class of systems called microservers to address the demands in large, scale-out data centres used in Internet and cloud environments by the likes of Facebook and Google. Such systems are dense servers that share components, such as power. Feldman said scale-out data centres are the fastest growing part of the server marketplace.

Jason Waxman, vice president and general manager of Intel’s Data Centre Business Unit, said microservers are a key part of the chip giant’s overall server portfolio, which includes Itanium processors for high-end workloads, Xeon for mainstream systems, its evolving Many Integrated Cores (MIC) efforts for high-performance computing, and Atom, which initially was developed for netbooks but has been extended into microservers. Having the ability to add Xeon chips to microservers only broadens the offerings.

“It’s our goal to make sure we give people a choice,” Waxman said during the event in San Francisco. “It’s important for us to provide multiple systems.”

He lauded SeaMicro for its ability to essentially offer systems that can support both the Xeon and Atom platforms. “It’s not an easy thing to go and do,” Waxman said.

SeaMicro has been able to create such small servers by stripping the traditional motherboard of about 90 percent of its components, including Ethernet NICs and BIOS chips, which Feldman said consume power but are not necessary. He called them “vampires that suck power down.”

What is left is a motherboard that essentially includes the Intel processor – the E3-1260L is the more energy-efficient Xeon in Intel’s line-up – DDR3 DRAM from Samsung and SeaMicro’s ASIC fabric chip, which handles networking and virtualisation. SeaMicro uses small outline dual in-line memory module (SODIMM) memory from Samsung, dubbed Green DDR3. The energy-efficient SODIMMs are almost half the size of the memory normally used in servers.

The SM10000-XE uses SeaMicro’s new Freedom Fabric ASIC, which contains the company’s I/O Virtualisation Technology, TIO (Turn It Off) technology that enables even better power optimisation by consolidating and turning off unneeded CPU and chipset functions, and Freedom Supercompute Fabric that ties the mini-motherboards together.

The result is a system like the SM10000-XE. Feldman said each 10U system can replaced 500 single-socket servers from five years ago, with a 90 percent reduction in power.

The SM10000-XE system is available now, starting at $138,000.

Other tech companies also are looking for ways to drive down the power consumption of servers while improving performance. Tilera rolled out rolled out the third generation of its many-core processors, the 16-core Tile-Gx16 and 36-core Tile-Gx36. Company officials also said they expect 64- and 100-core chips by the end of the year.

ARM Holdings and its manufacturing partners, whose low-power chips are dominant in the mobile device space, including smartphones and tablets, also are looking to push into the low-power server space. ARM officials do not expect to get traction in the server market until 2014, though some efforts already are under way. In particular, Hewlett-Packard is using ARM-designed chips from Calxeda in prototype low-power servers.

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