What is a “Server-Class” SOC?

As reported in various outlets yesterday, Intel has released their S1200 line of Atom SOC’s targeting the microserver market with the tagline: “Intel Delivers the World’s First 6-Watt Server-Class Processor”. The first notable point here is that they had to use 6 Watts, because 5 was already taken. The second notable point is their definition of “Server-Class”. Looking at the list of features on the Atom S1200, there are key “Server-Class” features missing:

  • Networking: Intel’s SOC requires you to add hardware for networking
  • Storage: Once again, there is no SATA connectivity included on the Intel SOC, so you must add hardware for that
  • Management: Even microservers need remote manageability features, so again with Intel you need to tack that on to the power and price budgets.

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Comparing Calxeda ECX1000 to Intel’s new S1200 Centerton chip

Based on what Intel disclosed today,  here’s a snapshot of Calxeda EnergyCore 1000 vs. Intel’s new S1200 chip:

ECX1000 Intel S1200
Watts 3.8 6.1
Cores 4 2
Cache (MB) 4 Shared 2 x .5 MB
PCI-E 16 lanes 8 lanes
ECC Yes Yes
Ethernet Yes No
Management Yes No
OOO Execution Yes No
Fabric Switch 80 Gb NA
Fabric ports 5 NA
Address Size 32 bits 64 bits
Memory Size 4 GB 8 GB

So, while the Centerton announcement indicates that Intel takes “microservers” seriously after all, it falls short of the ARM competition. It DOES have 64-bits and Intel ISA compatibility, however. Most workloads targeting ARM are interpreted code (PHP, LAMP, Java, etc), so this is not as big a deal as some would have you believe!Intel did not specify the additional chips required to deliver a real “Server Class” solution like Calxeda’s, but our analysis indicates this could add  10 additional watts PLUS the cost. That would imply the real comparison is between ECX and S1200 is ~3.8 vs ~16 watts. So roughly 3-4 times more power for Intel’s new S1200, again, comparing 2 cores to 4. Internal Calxeda benchmarks indicate that Calxeda’s four cores and larger cache delivery 50% more performance compared to the 2 hyper-threaded Atom cores. This translates to a Calxeda advantage of 4.5 to 6 times better performance per watt, depending on the nature of the application.

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.

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The World’s First 130 Watt Server Cluster

Boston Viridis Power Optimized Server Cluster Based on Calxeda EnergyCore

Calxeda’s approach to driving power optimization in the datacenter goes well beyond the processor.  We focus on enabling our partners to achieve rack level power efficiency based on our technology. Last week, Boston Limited announced their 2U Viridis platform with 24 Calxeda EnergyCore(TM) server nodes, 96GB of memory, and 6TB storage is measuring 130W “at the wall”. This equates to just 5.5W of power per server inclusive of memory, disk and chassis-level overhead.  At a fraction of the power of a traditional x86 server node, the Viridis server cluster based on Calxeda EnergyCore will allow datacenter operators to experience an order of magnitude improvement in efficiency. [Read more…]

Dell & Apache: More than just a donation

Today’s Dell announcement of their donation to the Apache Software Foundation is a huge milestone not only for Calxeda but the entire ARM server ecosystem. Supporting and engaging the open-source community has always been a high priority for the Round Rock based company, evidenced by their contributions and leadership in multiple open-source projects like OpenStack and other Apache projects. But this particular announcement is more than just a generous donation to a non-profit foundation.

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Calxeda in the Cloud, TryStack Announces New ARM Zone

Want to test some cloudy code on an ARM server?

Now you can! For Free!

Calxeda, OpenStack, HP, Canonical, and Core NAP  hosting have now donated the hardware, software, and facilities to provide FREE access to HP’s Calxeda-based Redstone servers using  the TryStack sandbox. This is so cool;  you can provision a free server instance and play to your hearts content.  Upload code or images. Develop and test your software. Use the OpenStack API’s on ARM and realize “Its just Linux!”.  And pay nothing.  For more information on how to access this, see the OpenStack Blog

Obviously, there has been a lot of interest about this new class of servers that can dramatically reduce power and space requirements for scale-out workloads. Thats why you came to this site! Some call these “micro-servers” (Intel). Some call them “Extreme Low Power Servers” (Gartner’s analysts). And yes, some have affectionately called them “Wimpy Nodes” (See Carnegie Mellon University’s “FAWN” paper.)

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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:


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.

World’s First Bicycle Powered ARM Server

Jon Masters, Principal Software Engineer at RedHat, just finished his presentation (“Hyperscale Cloud Computing with ARM Processors”) at RedHat Summit ’12 and concluded with one of the cooler demos I’ve seen in quite some time!  We sat down with Jon afterwards to get his thoughts and more detail into this very interesting topic.  He’s graciously allowed us to publish his blog post here first.

Hyperscale computing is a truly exciting emerging technology that, I feel, promises great things over the next few years. It will take advantage of such technology innovations as System-on-Chip (SoC), distributed fabric technologies, and integrated systems management. These are all features that are available today in Calxeda’s EnergyCore, which powers HP’s Redstone ARM servers. A complete Calxeda server node requires only three components: the SoC, memory, and storage. Together, these can be combined into extremely dense Cloud servers. Density is important because the era of cheap single-core processor performance growth is over. While the 80s and 90s saw a 52% year-on-year growth in compute performance per core on average, we’ve since reached a limit and returned to a growth rate half of that. So, the future is multi-core, and at phenominal levels of scale. With such scale comes an opportunity to rethink the conventional server design. Not only can we integrate fabric technologies (and obviate the need for discrete networking components), but we can also redesign server systems at the rack-level to take advantages of the efficiencies of scale.

The use of ARM technology in these systems is key in another way. It brings a new level of energy efficiency to datacenter server designs, such as the Redstone. A fully loaded ARM-based Calxeda server node (including memory) draws only 5W of power. Contrast this with conventional server designs using hundreds of Watts across many discrete components, bringing significant overhead in the form of power generation, distribution, and HVAC requirements. Since the future datacenter is all about high density at scale, it will be important to design server systems with energy efficiency in mind. These systems will use less energy and so will require less energy. They will generate less heat, and will have a greatly reduced overhead in terms of the traditional infrastructure, which has been designed to run legacy servers drawing hundreds of Watts.

Low energy computing has interested me personally for a number of years. At first in the embedded space, where I have worked with devices requiring under 1W of power and running for days or weeks on batteries, but now increasingly in the enterprise server space. When we have server nodes that require only 5W of power, we open up whole new avenues of exploration – both in terms of technology, and in terms of fun! With this in mind, it seemed only natural to find a way to truly visualize the low energy aspect of these emerging hyperscale server systems. Solar power is certainly an option. It’s a well-known, tried-and-tested technology that many people are familiar with. But I wanted to find something more novel and unique, more directly connected with the user and audience. The idea was suggested: why not use a bicycle? Bicycle generators have been used to power all kinds of things over the years, but to my knowledge they’ve never been used to power servers.

With this in mind, I designed and built what I think is the world’s first bicycle powered hyperscale server rig. The rig was used during my HP Redstone Server demo at the 2012 Red Hat Summit. It consists of a bicycle, attached to a generator via a friction bearing, the output of which is fed into a repurposed solar-charging circuit. The bike generator easily produces up to several hundred Watts, which trickle charges a battery that powers the server. Some smoothing circuitry is also added to prevent damage to the server as the pedal power is applied and removed, and a fan is attached to divert any excess power produced (which happens frequently), cooling the rider down. Finally, a series of multi-meters and some custom software is used to graph the instantaneous power generated by the rig as the rider pedals away. Using this rig, I have successfully powered the HP Redstone server while generating up to 200W of power on an average bicycle. At 5W per server node, that’s a lot of ARM server nodes that can be powered by one bicycle!

We couldn’t have said it better ourselves! Check out the pictures from the demo below!

Update: Some people have asked us what was actually running on the server for the demo. Each of the four nodes was running Fedora 17 GA and a distributed Mandelbrot demo using OpenMPI across 32 cores (8 Calxeda EnergyCores). Subtle, but this was the first public demo of Fedora on ARM that we are aware of…all powered by a bicycle!

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.

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Calxeda CEO to speak at GigaOM Structure

Barry Evans, Calxeda CEO and co-founder, has been invited to speak at the upcoming Cloud Fab, GigaOM Structure, in San Francisco on June 20. If you have never been to Structure, it is the industry’s premier event for advancements in Cloud Computing hardware and software innovations, with a list of speakers from some of the industry’s movers, shakers, and entrepreneurs.  Barry will be on a panel with AMD’s Andrew Feldman (formerly CEO of SeaMicro) and Guido Appenzeller, CEO of BigSwitch Networks. Their panel is titled “Inside the data center: it’s all about the fabrics”. This is a hot area.  AMD’s acquisition of SeaMicro, and Intel’s acquisition of fabric assets from Cray, have recently piqued interest from around the industry. As we move from the age of the “Clock Wars” to the age of the “Core Wars”, and now to the age of the “Efficiency Wars”, the cluster and datacenter interconnect fabric and software-defined networking are emerging as the source of the next series of breakthroughs.

Calxeda will also have live hardware running in our booth at the show. Come by to for a demo of OpenStack and other Cloud infrastructure running on Calxeda-based hardware from the industry’s leading system vendors.

If you would like a discounted ticket to attend Structure, Calxeda can help you out. Go to our website, where you will find a link to obtain a discount code for 25% as a friend of Calxeda!

Hope to see you in San Francisco!