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Facebook-led Open Compute Project (OCP) propells ARM servers

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Facebook-led Open Compute Project (OCP) announced a specification for a plug-in board that can accommodate a variety of ARM- and x86-based server SoCs. Applied Micro Circuits Corp. and Calxeda are among SoC vendors contributing board-level designs that meet the spec and use their ARM SoCs.

With the news, Facebook becomes the first major data center to open the door to ARM SoCs in servers. An executive for the social networking giant told EE Times late last year that Facebook might find some low volume roles for 32-bit ARM SoCs, but that it sees no widespread use of the architecture in host server processors until 64-bit parts are available, probably in 2014 or beyond.

Separately, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) announced it has financial services customers testing board designs it submitted to OCP last May. In addition, Mellanox is showing an integrated networking product for data centers at the Open Compute Summit here.

With OCP, Facebook is encouraging large and small data centers and their vendors to set common specs for servers and other data center gear to lower costs. Facebook competitors such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft specify custom server boards and other data center gear but don’t openly share details of those designs.

Applied Micro announced it developed a board design that uses its X-Gene 64-bit ARM server SoC and complies with the new OCP spec. The so-called Common Slot specification announced at the summit can accommodate all SoC architecture types.

Calxeda will show this week a 32-bit ARM SoC board that could be used as a storage controller for a disk drive array like this controller board in Facebook’s Open Vault. (To view a slideshow detailing Facebook's Open Compute project, click on the image).

Applied said it is on track to sample silicon for X-Gene to key customers before the end of the quarter. “As the first to deliver silicon based on the ARM 64-bit architecture, Applied Micro gives consumers an opportunity to evaluate the benefits of this compelling processor architecture,” said Frank Frankovsky, chairman of the Open Compute Foundation and vice president of hardware design and supply chain at Facebook, in a prepared statement.

“An alternative processor architecture such as ARM, coupled with open source software, has the potential to radically increase the amount of compute power we can get from the energy we consume and the money we spend,” Frankovsky said. 

“An ARM 64-bit server motherboard design has the potential to reach the data center by the end of this year,” Paramesh Gopi, president and CEO of Applied Micro, said in the statement.

Separately, Calxeda showed a Common Slot board at the summit using its 32-bit ARM-based SoC. It also demoed Project Knockout, an ARM-based board that can be used as a controller for disk arrays in the OCP Open Vault storage spec. In addition, Calxeda partnered with Avnet Embedded to show other data center designs it will release in the fall.

“Partners like Calxeda are critical to bringing creative new design options to the Open Compute Project community, and we applaud their technical contributions to the project,” Frankovsky said in a Calxeda statement.

Calxeda is currently shipping a 32-bit ARM server SoC. It has announced plans for a 64-bit version that will ship in 2014.

AMD and Intel will also support the Common Slot spec with x86 server chips.

AMD aims to leverage the OCP process for a wide range of server buyers. It showed at the summit the first boards based on its Open 3.0 platform, a spec contributed to OCP in May.

The boards are based on AMD’s 6300 processors and were developed in collaboration with 14 financial services companies including Fidelity. “A lot of customers I talk to like the OCP model,” said Bob Ogrey, an AMD fellow and cloud evangelist.

“After the first OCP summit in New York in October 2011, I sat down with some of the financial services people,” said Ogrey. “We met again in January 2012 with a draft spec and had multiple conference calls to review and revise the spec which was released at the OCP summit in San Antonio in May,” he added.

AMD will consider a similar board design for its 4300 series. It is also approaching server customers in other markets such as oil and gas with the designs.

The approach aims to lower the cost and simplify the management of servers by letting multiple vendors tag on to a single high volume design. The boards currently are made by two Taiwan ODMs, Qunta and Tyan, a division of Mitac.

The move effectively cuts branded server makers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard out of the loop. They could offer to sell such boards, but it’s not clear what value they would add since their boards are also made by third-parties such as Quanta and Mitac.

The Open 3.0 motherboard measures 16 x 16.5 inches, uses two 6300 CPUs and comes in versions that fit into 1U, 2U and 3U high racks, depending on how many hard drives, DRAM cards and adapter boards they use. One variant of the board is geared for Facebook’s Open Rack servers.

Ogrey declined to comment on the Common Slot spec. AMD announced late last year it will ship ARM-based server SoCs in 2014.

Separately, Mellanox showed sat the summit CoolBox, an integrated networking subsystem geared for data centers. It includes a top-of-rack switch and a server network interface and supports 10-40 Gbit Ethernet and 10-56 Gbit Infiniband links.


By: DocMemory
Copyright © 2013 CST, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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