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Taking multi-core to an extreme


Power consumption has been a growing concern for CPU designers, manufacturers, and end-users for the last decade. The projected exponential growth in power consumption led Intel to abandon its NetBurst microarchitecture in favor of the much more efficient Core design. This has also led both Intel and AMD to focus on multi-core designs that would be more power efficient and scale more effectively.

Intel also took power efficiency to a whole other level with the Atom processors. Designed for nettops, netbooks, Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs), and the embedded market, Atom's relentless focus on power efficiency over pure performance created several new computing segments.

The world's largest semiconductor company is working on multi-core designs with CPUs that number in the dozens, but those products are years away from commercialization. A new startup may have found a way to give them a run for their money.

SeaMicro figures that most of today’s servers are particularly inefficient on small simple workloads, and even more inefficient during periods of  low utilization or idle. It believes that microtransactions are best handled by using hundreds of power-efficient CPUs instead of larger multi-core chips.

The company has developed a new server that can utilize up to 512 Atom CPUs together. Sixteen Atom CPUs and chipsets are integrated onto a single PCB along with SeaMicro's proprietary ASIC that handles server management and load balancing. Up to 32 PCBs are assembled together to form a single SM10000 server, four of which can fit in a standard rack.

The design removes 90% of the components typically found on a motherboard and consolidates discreet networking components to further reduce power and cost. Up to 64 GbE and/or 16 x 10GbE uplinks and anywhere from 0-64 6Gb/s SATA drives can be used.

The secret sauce is SeaMicro's Dynamic Compute Allocation Technology (DCAT). It has the ability to shut off cores or entire boards, using its software to determine which is more efficient. Rule based management is also an option and can be programmed by the customer, with several default profiles provided.

The only major flaw is that SeaMicro's server do not support ECC or registered memory and therefore should not be used for mission-critical applications. The current design using Intel's Z-530 Atoms, and can only support 2GB of DDR2 DRAM per chip. However, that equals 1 Terabyte of DRAM in a full configuration.

SeaMicro claims a higher degree of security than virtualization, because individual Atom dice or entire boards can be isolated. Each drive can also be isolated for additional security.

The design is platform agnostic, and its flexible architecture can be made compatible with any x86, ARM, RISC and others designs. The hardware can also be easily modified for compatibility with Intel's 32nm Atom designs.

Pricing for a SM10000 starts at $139,000 USD. However, SeaMicro claims a 75% reduction in space and power consumption for an equivalent amount of performance from mainstream solutions. The associated reduction in power conditioning and cooling will also help companies save money. The SM10000 comes with 80Plus power supplies, and  uses less than 2 KW of power.

The SM10000 will go on sale at the beginning of July in limited quantities, with general availability on July 30. SeaMicro already has multiple customers amongst the top 100 data centers. Applications with large volumes of microtransactions include free web-based email (such as Gmail and Hotmail), and social media sites (Facebook and Twitter).

SeaMicro was founded by industry veterans from leading technology companies including Cisco Systems, Juniper Networks, Sun Microsystems, Intel, and AMD.  The company has raised $25 million from strategic partners and venture capitalists, and was  awarded a $9.3 million grant from the Department of Energy.


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512 Atom CPUs is equal to what?
By Bateluer on 6/14/2010 8:50:36 AM , Rating: 1
Having owned an N270 and currently own an Atom 330, 512 Atom CPUs still doesn't equate to much performance. You're probably still better off, both in terms of performance and power usage, buying a pair of quad core nehalem based silicon.

RE: 512 Atom CPUs is equal to what?
By dsx724 on 6/14/2010 9:11:12 AM , Rating: 2
If you are making $150 a piece, you'll get return on investment after two months minus networking, sales, SAN, and management costs. Some people simply refuse to buy virtualized slices so this is a cheap way of getting them onboard.

RE: 512 Atom CPUs is equal to what?
By XZerg on 6/14/2010 9:11:33 AM , Rating: 5
This isn't about muscle power. this is about performance/watt but specifically for non-CPU bottled tasks such as web servers or even some databases. Remember Niagara or Rock from Sun? 16 cores - 32 threads and even more after? Sorta like that.

RE: 512 Atom CPUs is equal to what?
By ekv on 6/14/2010 12:36:07 PM , Rating: 2
My first reaction was that there are CULV processors coming along with even better perf/watt. Even an i5 outperforms an Atom (on certain benchmarks) in terms of perf/watt.

However, when you start digging into the article, the processor used for the server doesn't matter that much. SeaMicro has really done their homework to isolate power hungry bottlenecks. Ganged networking. Powering down entire boards (not in use). I'm not saying the product is going to revolutionize anything, but it is a little more interesting that I had thought.

As far as Niagara or Rock, I think they are more geared toward handling something on the order of routers or switches. They could probably used in a server like this, but I don't think they are as general purpose as the Atom (or other x86 CPU).

RE: 512 Atom CPUs is equal to what?
By MGSsancho on 6/14/2010 11:49:07 PM , Rating: 2
Niagara is a general purpose CPU. It can run Solaris 10 or Opensolaris just fine. It uses the sparc architecture and with Niagara having dual 10GB Ethernet nics on the CPU it self, makes a great box for network related task such as Deep Packet Inspection (there are vendors who sell those kit with their DPI soft2ware bundled.) While it can run and code that is compiled for sparc, like any other system, it has its strengths and weaknesses.

Another note Larry Ellison killed off Rock. It will never see the light of day.

RE: 512 Atom CPUs is equal to what?
By ekv on 6/15/2010 2:56:23 AM , Rating: 2
Didn't Sun have some kind of OpenSource licensing agreement for their processors. I thought a couple high-tech universities signed on, e.g. Stanford. That way literally anybody could license the CPU design, but then would have to hire/rent a fab to build it.

Did Ellison kill off the licensing too? or just Sun's use of the Rock (going forward)? [in other words, do you know if the design can still be licensed?]

By Cheesew1z69 on 6/14/2010 9:20:20 AM , Rating: 2
POWER is most likely the end result as these chips are designed to user very little power.

RE: 512 Atom CPUs is equal to what?
By AssBall on 6/14/2010 9:30:13 AM , Rating: 2
This is for offloading certain common network applications, and comes with specifically designed software to maximize hardware efficiency. It's not for 24/7 full blast folding@home computation.

By AnnihilatorX on 6/14/2010 3:59:52 PM , Rating: 2
Having owned an N270 and currently own an Atom 330, 512 Atom CPUs still doesn't equate to much performance. You're probably still better off, both in terms of performance and power usage, buying a pair of quad core nehalem based silicon.

Maybe you don't understand what 'micro' means in 'microtransaction server'. If you own a low skill assembly factory, you don't need many highly qualified labor, you just need lots and lots of low skilled ones.

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