A not-so-small step forward for ARM-kind

APMC

amd-stage-apu-13

Two major milestones were reached this week for fans of ARM-based server gear.   First, HP and Applied Micro announced the 1st production ARM server this week with appropriate fanfare.   Here’s an analysis by Paul Teich and Gina Longoria (another Calxeda Alumni) of Moor Insights and Strategy.   Second, AMD showed off 2 OS’es (RedHat and SUSE), 2 JVMs (OpenJDK and Oracle),  and Hadoop running for the 1st time on an ARM A57 based server at JavaOne.   As Harish Jonnalagadda of BSN noted,  “Adding Hadoop functionality to its software ecosystem is a natural move for AMD as its target clients will be looking to use its server clusters to process large data sets. The low-power nature of the CPUs make them ideal for processing large chunks of information and undertaking high I/O tasks.”

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Haswell E5 and the iPhone6: Why would anyone ever need more?

E5

Aiphone6s expected,  Intel® announced the Haswell E5 processor family for Servers and Workstations at IDF on September 9.  Coincidentally the event was just up the valley from Apple’s event announcing the (ARM-based) iPhone 6, 6Plus, and Apple Watch.  Between the two media-saturation blitzes, one could barely find coverage of misbehaving NFL stars or Russian would-be Czars in the day’s news headlines.  While few would connect these two events in any way,  to me there is  a common thread,  best summarized by my interpretation of their messaging:  “It’s a floor wax! It’s a desert topping!  Its everything you ever wanted,  and more!”   If you’ll allow me, …

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ARM Servers: Hype vs. Reality

b283e604-cfcf-11e3-a3f9-12313d1c3a13-mediumAs the ARM server market began to emerge in press and powerpoint, it was not hard to separate the hype from reality:  it was a lot of hype.  Spread by well-meaning advocates trying to change the world and give Intel a run for their money, these myths created unrealistic expectations on whether ARM chips are worthy of server applications, when they will ship, and how hard they will be to use. I applaud the early leaders including APM and AMD for their early efforts on 64-bit products.  While they have tried to balance their excitement and the uncertainty of semiconductor development schedules, there are nonetheless a few myths that need clearing up.  Here are six common ones: [Read more...]

HostingCon 2013: InterWorx Control Panel running on EnergyCore demo video now posted

Live from HostingCon, we’ve posted a video of Brett from Interworx demoing the Interworx control panel and clustering technology on a 24 server Calxeda system. To see the cluster in action for yourself, tweet @InterWorxArm and see what the cluster has to say. We’ll keep the twitter demo running until the end of HostingCon.

Check out the demo video below:

 

HostingCon 2013: See InterWorx Control Panel running on EnergyCore at the Calxeda booth

interworxHostingCon 2013 is right around the corner, so I’d like to give everyone a preview of the work that our partner InterWorx has done to get their control panel and clustering technology running on our gear. Ever since the spike in interest from World Hosting Days back in March, we’ve been working hard to enable hosting providers to create Calxeda-based offerings. A key part of that is the hosting control panel, and we’re pleased to be working with InterWorx on creating the first control panel compatible with ARM servers. With just a little bit of elbow grease, we’ve gotten the InterWorx control panel and clustering technology to run on one of our 24-node systems. We’ll be showing a live demo at HostingCon next week, so drop by the Calxeda booth (#905) to talk to us and the InterWorx team.

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.

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Green Computing Makes a Giant Leap Forward …thanks to the iPhone?…and ARM processors!

Written by Shawn Kaplan, General Manager – Financial Services, TELX

Shawn Kaplan, TELX General Manager Financial Services

Shawn Kaplan

Advances in multi-core computing have allowed far greater compute densities such that nearly all datacenter racks run out of available power far sooner than physical space.  Traditional High Performance Computing (HPC) X86 clusters can consume upwards of 400W per rack unit (U), this means that a typical data center rack with a 5KW – 8KW circuit can be maxed out in as little as 1/4 or 1/2 of the available space.  Many of today’s forward thinking IT leaders are asking “Why can’t I have both extremely dense computing and better power efficiency?”

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Here comes the emulators! (EE Times Article)

Remember how smoothly Apple transitioned from PowerPC chips to X86 back in the mid 2000’s? Customers hardly noticed that all their software “just worked” on a completely different ISA, thanks to some cool software built by “Transitive”, a small UK based company since gobbled up by IBM. Well, emulation doesn’t solve ALL the worlds problems, and critical applications will of course need to go native for maximum performance. But this approach can be very helpful with the CAO, or Computer Aided Other; the ancillary but important applications, tools, and utilities that are so pervasive in a datacenter.

Below is an excerpt from the EE Times article, ARM Gets Weapon in Server Battle Vs. Intel.

Russian engineers are developing software to run x86 programs on ARM-based servers. If successful, the software could help lower one of the biggest barriers ARM SoC makers face getting their chips adopted as alternatives to Intel x86 processors that dominate today’s server market.

Elbrus Technologies has developed emulation software that delivers 40 percent of current x86 performance. The company believes it could reach 80 percent native x86 performance or greater by the end of 2014. Analysts and ARM execs described the code as a significant, but limited option.

A growing list of companies–including Applied Micro, Calxeda, Cavium, Marvell, Nvidia and Samsung-aim to replace Intel CPUs with ARM SoCs that pack more functions and consume less power. One of their biggest hurdles is their chips do not support the wealth of server software that runs on the x86.

The Elbrus emulation code could help lower that barrier. The team will present a paper on its work at the ARM TechCon in Santa Clara, Calif., Oct. 30-Nov. 1.

The team’s software uses 1 Mbyte of memory. “What is more exciting is the fact that the memory footprint will have weak dependence on the number of applications that are being run in emulation mode,” Anatoly Konukhov, a member of the Elbrus team, said in an e-mail exchange.

The team has developed a binary translator that acts as an emulator, and plans to create an optimization process for it.

“Currently, we are creating a binary translator which allows us to run applications,” Konukhov said. “Implementation of an optimization process will start in parallel later this year–we’re expecting both parts be ready in the end of 2014.”

Work on the software started in 2010. Last summer, Elbrus got $1.3 million in funding from the Russian investment fund Skolkovo and MCST, a veteran Russian processor and software developer. MCST also is providing developers for the [Elbrus] project. Emulation is typically used when the new architecture has higher performance than the old one, which is not the case-at least today–moving from the x86 to ARM. “By the time this software is out in 2014 you could see chips using ARM’s V8, 64-bit architecture,” Krewell noted. “That said, you will lose some of the power efficiency of ARM when doing emulation,” Krewell said. “Once you lose 20 or more percent of efficiency, you put ARM on par with an x86,” he added. Emulation “isn’t the ideal approach for all situations,” said Ian Ferguson, director for server systems and ecosystem at ARM. “For example, I expect native apps to be the main solution for Web 2.0 companies that write their own code in high level languages, but in some areas of enterprise servers and embedded computing emulation might be interesting,” he said.

Calxeda EnergyCore-Based Servers Now Available

We spent a lot of time at various tradeshows around the world in June and the #1 question we were asked was “when can I get my hands on a Calxeda-based server?” I am happy to tell you the wait is over.

We have been working with Boston Limited in the UK, a highly respected  solution provider, for about a year to bring an excellent Proof of Concept (POC) platform to market called “Viridis”.  Boston currently has about 20 customers lined up for beta testing and a pipeline of hundreds of others interested in evaluating the platform.  Boston is taking orders now from users in Europe, Asia and the US with shipments beginning later this month.

The Register published a great article today highlighting the features of the Boston Viridis platform:

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/07/09/boston_viridis_arm_server/

Boston Viridis is a perfect option for those users who want to port their code, run benchmarks, and optimize their workloads for ARM.  This highly configurable solution allows users to create their ideal initial testing environments with options ranging from 4 to 48 Calxeda EnergyCore server nodes in a 2U form factor.

We look forward to working with Boston and other systems providers to enable the market with Calxeda-based POCs.  Stay tuned as we learn about success stories users experience with Calxeda EnergyCore-based solutions over the coming months.

What is an SoC? Hint: the “S” stands for Server.

The acronym “SoC” generally refers to “System on a Chip”. But with SoCs entering the server space, it is also taking on a new meaning: “Server on a Chip”. An SoC is a large scale integration of processor cores, memory controllers, on-chip and off-chip memories, peripheral controllers, accelerators, and custom IP (intellectual property) for specific applications and uses. As Moore’s law continues, chip process geometries shrink, allowing more transistors to reside on the same area of silicon. Traditionally, server processors have used this new real estate to add more cores. But there are better alternatives than just adding more cores for certain applications.

Increasing integration in an SoC brings a number of benefits including:

  • Higher performance – significantly faster and wider internal busses compared to those found in a multi-chip or multi-board solution.
  • Lower power – wider range of power optimization techniques can be employed in SoCs including power gating, changing bus speeds depending upon utilization, dynamic voltage and frequency scaling of processor cores and peripherals, multiple power domains, and a number of others. Additionally, having peripherals on chip avoids power hungry PHYs (analog drivers that need to drive signals between chips and boards).
  • Higher density – fewer components to buy, consume power, and fail.
  • Deeper integration of peripheral controllers and fabric interconnect technologies allow a number of advantages that cannot normally be achieved by having to go through standard bridges like PCIe.

Let’s stop and consider the components we typically will find in a standard rack-optimized volume server:

  • One or two processor chips, often with integrated memory controllers.
  • One or two chips for processor chipsets providing a range of functions like Southbridge peripherals and PCIe.
  • A PCIe connected Ethernet NIC, either chip or PCIe board. In today’s volume servers, this is typically one or two 1 Gb Ethernet interfaces.
  • A PCIe connected SATA controller, either chip or PCIe board.
  • Controller chip for an SD card and/or USB.
  • An extra cost, optional BMC (baseboard management controller) providing out of band system management control.

So, now with the availability of a purpose-built ARM® server SoC, how does this change? Everything in the laundry list above gets integrated onto a single, low power die. For example, let’s take a look at the Calxeda EnergyCore ECX-1000 series of SoCs. In each chip, we find:

  • A quad-core Cortex A9 CPU, configured for server workloads.
  • The largest L2 cache that you’ll find on an ARM server: 4 MB with ECC.
  • A server class memory subsystem including a wide, high-performance 72-bit DDR3/3L memory controller, also including ECC.
  • Integrated peripheral controllers that have direct DMA interfaces to the internal SoC busses without the PCIe overhead. Standard server peripheral controllers like multiple-lanes of SATA, multiple Ethernet controllers (both 1 Gb and 10 Gb), even an SD/eMMC controller for local boot or scratchpad storage,  are all integrated on-chip.
  • If your server needs to connect to devices that are not integrated, there are four dual-mode PCIe controllers, supporting both root-complex and target modes, in both x4 and x8 configurations.
  • Instead of an optional (and expensive) BMC, management is built onto every chip, providing a sophisticated server management system that provides both in-band and out-of-band IPMI/DCMI system management interfaces along with dynamic power and fabric management.
  • A deeply integrated, power and performance-optimized fabric interconnect, which we’ll talk about in a future blog entry.
  • And all of this is designed with performance, power, and cost optimized servers in mind, delivering the industry leading performance/Watt and performance/Watt/$ servers.
Calxeda EnergyCore ECX-1000 Block Diagram
Calxeda EnergyCore ECX-1000 Block Diagram

 

With all the typical server components integrated onto a single chip, you can build a server by “just adding power and DRAM”. And even that is made easy for our customers with a card-level reference design of four EnergyCore SoCs, power regulators, DRAM, and fabric interconnect.

For the last several years, SoCs have been used in embedded systems and mobile devices for the same reasons and benefits discussed above.  The server industry is now applying those same lessons learned to it’s own domain.  No matter what the design looks like, a better integrated and power optimized Server-on-a-Chip is needed for the scale-out, cluster demands of our Internet generation.

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