Fabrics and the Software-Defined Data Center

Moonshot Cartridge

Calxeda has announced its second generation SoC, the ARM® Cortex™ A15 based EnergyCore™ ECX-2000.    This is the industry’s first ARM-based SoC enabled for full OpenStack clouds, Xen and KVM virtualization, and delivers twice the performance of the first generation ARM-based server SoCs. Calxeda will demonstrate the new platform running Ceph object storage and OpenStack  at this week’s ARM TechCon conference in Santa Clara, October 29-31.  Notably, HP has selected the ECX-2000 for an upcoming Moonshot server in early 2014. Calxeda also added a second 64-bit SoC to its roadmap that is pin-compatible with the ECX-2000,  accelerating the availability of production 64-bit Calxeda-based systems in 2014 and protecting customers investments.

While this is big news, there is a far more important story to be told.  The new ECX-2000 is just the next step on the journey to a far more efficient datacenter. This journey will fundamentally reshape the datacenter infrastructure into a fleet of compute, storage, networking, and memory resources; the so-called Software-defined Data Center.

[Read more…]

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?”

[Read more…]

What’s a nice core like ARM® doing in a place like this?

IEEE held their annual fest for uber-techies at SuperComputing ’12 this week in Salt Lake City.  With over 8000 attendees flocking to the snowy site in spite of the economy and impending fiscal cliff, this event has become a mecca for anyone seeking the next great technology in computing hardware for serious work.  In the old days, it was all about (Tera)Flops and Fortran.  These days it is about Big Data, hardware acceleration, interconnect fabrics, storage, and green computing.  Wandering around in the massive exhibit hall, one could see name badges from companies like eBay,  Amazon, Peer One Hosting, and Dreamworks, right alongside the traditional attendees from leading universities, National Labs, and the Departments of Defense and Energy.

So, what’s a little core like ARM doing in a place like this? Its all about the data. “Data Intensive Computing” in HPC is pronounced “Big Data” in the enterprise.   And the two communities have another thing in common: both are seeking more energy efficient solutions to large computations challenges. So naturally, they are turning to ARM with great hopes for the future.

[Read more…]

Apache Benchmarks for Calxeda’s 5-Watt Web Server

It’s the middle of June, which means we’re smack in the middle of tradeshow and conference season for the IT industry. We were at Computex in Taipei two weeks ago, and this week we’re participating in International Supercomputing in Hamburg, and GigaOM’s Structure conference in San Francisco. In fact, our CEO, Barry Evans, is on a panel to discuss fabric technologies and their role in the evolution of datacenters. Should be a good one!

In spite of the hectic season, it hasn’t stopped us from moving forward with what everyone is really waiting for: benchmarks!  Well, I’m happy to be able to share some preliminary results of both performance and power consumption for those of you looking for more efficient web servers.

[Read more…]

The Little (ARM) Server That Could

Two weeks ago, Calxeda publicly demonstrated Ubuntu 12.04 on the EnergyCore SoC, a monumental occasion for the ARM server industry.  The progress that’s been made by Calxeda and our partners over the last 12 months has truly been remarkable.  The journey we’ve taken and the opportunity afforded us reminds me of a famous childhood story, “The Little Engine That Could”; a story that teaches children about hard work and believing in ourselves.

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper

(Spoiler alert: Essentially, there’s a stranded train that needs help getting over a high mountain. Some of the larger, more established, engines are asked to pull the train, but for various reasons they refuse. So they ask the small engine, who agrees to try. The engine successfully pulls the train over the mountain while repeating its motto: “I-think-I-can”.)

There have been naysayers who have, from the very beginning, doubted not only Calxeda’s ability, but the ability of an entire ecosystem to recognize and respond to an industry desperate for change.  And that’s exactly why the world’s first Ubuntu 12.04 demo on an ARM server two weeks ago was so exciting!  Together with our partners, we demonstrated the following on a Calxeda reference server:

  1. Fully functional web server powering a local copy of calxeda.com
  2. Cloud Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform via OpenStack
  3. Support for Canonical’s Juju and MaaS for system configuration and provisioning

Some people have recently asked me, “so, what’s the big deal?”  Well, I want to take a moment to provide some color commentary about these demos and, more importantly, what these demos really represent. [Read more…]

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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