Friday, October 28, 2011

With 64-bit ARMv8-based X-Gene, AppliedMicro demos clean-slate approach to cloud computing

Hot on the heels of ARM’s announcement of the 64-bit v8 instruction set architecture (ISA) today, Applied Micro Circuits Corp. demo’d X-Gene, the world’s first 64-bit arm Linux running on the world’s first ARM 64-bit hardware. (See X-Gene demo video here).

The demonstration of the core functionality on an FPGA platform was three years in the making, with AppliedMicro having been a strategic partner with ARM on the development of the v8, 128 of which will be on X-Gene when it starts sampling in the second half of 2012, running at 3 GHz.

The goal of AppliedMicro’s entry into the cloud computing server space is that it recognized an opportunity to fundamentally change server design due to a disparity between the tasks data servers were originally designed to do, and what they’re doing now. That disparity is causing havoc with the total cost of ownership (TCO) which is not just based on capex, but also power consumption, and is rising at an incremental rate of $95 million - per day.

At the demonstration, Andrew Feldman, founder and CEO of SeaMicro, framed the disparity best, by describing how data and server needs have gone from internally oriented approaches where staff is told to wait in line, to customer-oriented cloud computing, where wait states are not tolerable. “The work changed, but servers didn’t,” he said.

The wait states are a result of the bursty nature of Internet traffic which can overload servers, while at the same time, the down times mean servers are still consuming vast amounts of power, in idle mode.

Feldman sees a need for small, simple CPUs to improve computation-per-unit power. His company currently uses Intel’s Atom, but is now shifting to the v8. “We will shrink the motherboard to the size of a business card, and then connect them.”

X-Gene will help with that move, with AppliedMicro’s demo team believing it is, “on the cusp of something beautiful.”

The enthusiasm may be well founded. The processor tackles the problem from three angles: improved efficiency, hardware utilization and improved latency. From a hardware point of view, this entails higher integration, efficient out-of-order cores (read: v8) and virtualization support.

The integration is impressive. It will integrate the 128 v8 cores running at 3GHz with all the networking and I/O, including PCIe and 10/40/100-Gbit/s Ethernet, all connected via a coherent terabit fabric and an 80 Gbyte’s memory throughput.

Software support includes Lamp, MySQL, Stack, Apache Server and of course Linux. “The cloud is synonymous with Linux,” said Paramesh.

The expectation is the ARM-based “Server-on-a-Chip” solution will take a 30% chunk every year out of the server farm’s total cost of ownership (TCO). A tall order: I’m looking forward to seeing it happen.

For more, see the video demo, as well as:

AMCC demos 64-bit ARM server chip

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