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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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Very limited market for a server like this
By Nutzo on 6/14/2010 11:04:33 AM , Rating: 2
This only works if your app can be distributed among this many CPUs. In a typical office environment, the server CPUs sit at closer to idle than 100% much of the time, with occasional blasts of full load.

I'm amazed at how power efficent the new Intel Xeon & i7 CPUs are. I have one of the new Dell servers, and with Dual quad core 2.53Ghz CPU's, 8GB ram, and 8 drives, it averages around 250 watts. That's significantly less than our old single core 3Ghz Xeon servers.

My new I7 (860) system I built draws about 30% less power at idle than my old single core P4, and 10% less at full load while doing 5x to 6x the work.

By XZerg on 6/14/2010 11:10:31 AM , Rating: 2
Incorrect - the market is huge - Web Servers. You can have a dedicated processor for each site or few of them. Most of the bottleneck in the web servers are: data retrieval and transfer via network. For these a low power using cpu such as Atom should be more than enough.

By AssBall on 6/14/2010 1:12:04 PM , Rating: 1
This isn't for a 10 person office. I'm not sure what kind of "typical office" you are talking about but I disagree that a system like this has no value or market.

Sure an i7 is more efficient than a P4. They have lower capacitive resistance, stricter manufacturing processes, lower voltage requirements, and faster switching than 7 year old CPUs. I don't see how any of this applies to this Atom based system though.

Once you stop thinking about peak available op/s/w, and focus on how many ops are ACTUALLY done per watt, this system will make a lot more sense. i.e. a few new Xeons can sure do a ton of work for the comparative initial price, but meantime your transistors are probably sitting around doing nothing (wasting nanoseconds and microwatts) for most of the macro-time. There are many cases where the TCO of a company could benefit from something like this if it works as advertised.

In any case, this setup is meant to be a compliment to existing hardware and software, not a total replacement.

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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