A Silicon Valley startup is using a processor primarily found in mobile devices for a new kind of cloud-computing server. On Monday, SeaMicro unveiled its Internet-optimized x86 server, based on 512 Intel Atom processors.
The model, SM10000, is described by the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company as the "ultimate rethink of the volume server." It said the server is specifically designed for the workloads and traffic patterns on the Internet, and that its approach "dramatically reduces power draw and footprint without requiring any modifications to existing software."
'Fundamental Server Design Mismatch'
The company said the SM10000's key benefits include using a quarter of the power and taking up a quarter of the space as an equivalent, best-in-class volume server. The new unit can run off-the-shelf operating systems and applications without modification, and has an architecture flexible enough to support any CPU.
Other technology innovations include a patented new CPU I/O virtualization, elimination of 90 percent of the components ordinarily required for virtualization, and a supercomputer-style interconnect fabric linking the 512 mini-motherboards into a single system -- which results in a throughput of 1.28 terabits. The architecture supports any protocol, including Ethernet, fibre channel, or data-center Ethernet. The unit's 512 Atom processors run at 1.6 GHz, with one terabyte of DRAM.
SeaMicro is especially promoting the power savings. The company cited reports from Google to the effect that, if current power requirements continue, the cost of energy for a server will, over its lifetime, surpass the initial purchase cost.
SeaMicro said its approach deals with a "fundamental server design mismatch." Servers, it said, were initially designed to solve a "relatively small number of very hard problems," a situation that was changed by the Internet.
In a data center focused on the Internet, it said, the challenge is handling many relatively small, independent tasks -- searches, social networking, web page views, e-mail -- and volume servers are not optimized for these kinds of smaller tasks, leading to the kinds of power problems encountered in many data centers.
The company also noted that the CPU only accounts for about a third of the power used in a server, and, in order to achieve major reductions, its SM10000 has reduced non-CPU components. In this design, a high-density, low-power, single-box cluster computer integrates everything normally found in a rack into one unit. This includes computing, storage, networking, server management, and load balancing.
Al Hilwa, program director at IDC, described the new server as an "interesting" use of the Atom processor. He noted that SeaMicro's emphasis that this is an x86, standards-based, "plug and play" server indicates that existing development tools and environments will work without modification, but that has yet to be determined.
If this does work, Hilwa said, "odds are that existing players," like Intel, will begin to develop similar products.
Founded by veterans from such companies as Cisco, Juniper Networks, Sun Microsystems, Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, SeaMicro said the new server is the result of three years of development.