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.

According to Wikipedia:

A Software-defined data center (SDDC) is an architectural approach to IT infrastructure that extends virtualization concepts such as abstraction, pooling, and automation to all of the data center’s resources and services to achieve IT as a service.[1] In a software-defined data center, “compute, storage, networking, security, and availability services are pooled, aggregated, and delivered as software, and managed by intelligent, policy-driven software.”[2] Software-defined data centers are often regarded as the necessary foundational infrastructure for scalable, efficient cloud computing.

Today, the SDDC is usually defined as VMware on X86, and given the state of today processors, thats the only way to go.  But the Calxeda approach is to drive  SDDC virtualization and abstraction all the way down to an integrated silicon solution, with enabling firmware running on the Fleet Engine™ and  disaggregated resources addressable over via the Fleet Fabric™ interconnect.  These two features are the cornerstone of Calxeda innovation.  It starts with today’s 2nd generation Calxeda fabric and management, and evolves in the future to full resource disaggregation with hardware acceleration.

Sounds pretty ambitious for a small company like Calxeda, but this is where ARM enters the picture. The ARM business model enables each licensee to innovate on what really matters by providing standard off-the-shelf cores, saving time and money compared to the traditional model of custom core development, which can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. Now, ARM cores have become “good enough” for select workloads in the datacenter today, and in the future will be able to handle virtually all the load.  Consider the phone you carried 5 years ago, then consider the PC you had 5 years ago.  Which one is on a steeper trajectory of innovation?  The fundamental drivers that are enabling that innovation is the combination of the open source software like Android, and what is essentially “Open Silicon” from ARM.  And now that pace of innovation is coming to the data center.

So, how can a fabric provide resource disaggregation?  The Fleet Fabric is more than a lightweight Ethernet switch.  It is controlled by Calxeda software running on the management and offload engines, which we call “Fleet Engines”.  This is where Calxeda’s software  will run the abstraction software that enables very low latency access across the fabric to attached resources.  Think of it as a Software-defined Fabric!  That’s where we are heading, and its going to be one heck of a ride!

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