Anandtech Reviews the Calxeda ECX-1000: “Calxeda’s ECX-1000 server node is revolutionary technology”

I’d like to point everyone over to a great review of the Calxeda-powered Boston Viridis box by Anandtech that just went live, here. First of all, big thanks to Johan De Gelas over at Anandtech and Wannes De Smet at SizingServers for doing a top notch job pulling together an in-depth review of our gear as well as the team at Boston Limited for taking care of the hardware. Since we launched the ECX-1000 we’ve been beating the streets to get real results and metrics out into customers’ hands and show that the technology delivers as promised. With quotes like “Calxeda really did it”, “nothing short of remarkable” and “revolutionary technology”, we’re all excited to see these results posted on a site like Anandtech.

 I don’t want to spoil the fun of reading the article for you, but it all comes down to what Anandtech calls “The Results That Matter”. We’ve been fairly open that the goal of our product is perf/W or perf/U and in those scenarios I’m quite pleased with what Anandtech found. In their web hosting benchmarks (PHPbb deployment), the team showed that the Calxeda-powered Boston Viridis can provide 44% more performance at 19% lower power than a 2P Xeon E5-2650L system or 16% more performance at 36% lower power for the higher wattage than a 2P Xeon E5-2660 system. This is not a speculative guess at where performance will be, but rather a real number on real hardware that you can go buy today from Boston in the UK, and Penguin, System Fabric Works, Avnet or Scalable Informatics in the US.

I particularly want to call attention to the use of a PHPbb deployment as a real world benchmark. One of the comments on the Anandtech story that caught my eye was that this was a “cherry-picked” benchmark. As presented in the review, a focus area for our first product is LAMP-based web applications and PHPbb provides a good look at that, since it ties together all of the main LAMP components into one widely used application. Yes, it tests our hardware in a use case that we designed for, but it is neither a niche case nor irrelevant to general web application or web hosting scenarios. No benchmark is perfect, but this one can be used as a performance baseline for many LAMP-based applications, like WordPress, which as of this writing is running on over 60 million websites worldwide.

The micro-benchmarks in the Anandtech article do however point out some areas where we have ground to cover. As we look ahead, I see three areas where we will not only improve the benchmarks, but also overall application performance. First of all, the Calxeda engineering team helped Anandtech to do some tuning and drop overall power draw significantly, without affecting performance. Those savings are all based on settings and features that are available to every Calxeda customer, there’s just some learning curve since they don’t exist on x86 systems. We continue to add to that list and have plenty more tricks up our sleeve on current hardware for upcoming firmware updates. One example is that we’re already targeting sub 100W idle power for a later firmware release (compared to 135W by Anandtech).

Second, the maturation of ARM code in the Linux ecosystem has been very rapid.  Not only does a large percentage of Linux code run on ARM-based systems, but the code is now being optimized for ARM. Take a look at the projects going on at Linaro and the LEG group in particular and you can see there’s a lot of goodness coming to the Linux/ARM ecosystem. All of that work is starting to show up in official Ubuntu, Fedora, and now OpenSUSE distributions. On the ECX-1000, Ubuntu 12.10 brought across the board performance improvements compared to 12.04, with some packages, like PHP and Ruby, improving 30% or more. Another example is the STREAM benchmark; we can already improve upon the STREAM result published by Anandtech by another 9% using standard GCC compiler optimizations. There’s a lot more “free” performance to be had out there.

The third area is the ARM roadmap. The Anandtech team has pointed to the rapid evolution of ARM-powered hardware and we’ll be on that curve as well. We have an A15 part coming this year that will increase both memory footprint and raw performance. Beyond that, when ARM v8 products launch the improvement will continue.

This is a first step, of many, for Calxeda and ARM servers in general, so I want to close by reminding you Anandtech’s results are a starting point on our first-gen hardware, and a darn good one at that. As we work with more hardware and software partners, the ARM performance and capability gains that the Anandtech article points out (and better) are entirely within our grasp.

We’ll be at World Hosting Days in Germany next week with our partner Boston Limited, so Anandtech’s results in a web hosting scenario are extra relevant. Drop by booth B10 next week and let’s talk about what we can do for your hosting environment.

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