Calxeda could spur 32-bit microserver marketSAN FRANCISCO--Confirmation of the partnership between Hewlett Packard Co. and Texas startup Calxeda Inc. to develop ARM-based servers has added more fuel to discussions about microservers, and which process technology is best poised to serve the market.
On Tuesday (Nov 1), HP said it would be working with Austin-based Calxeda on a development system for ARM based server offerings, allowing customers and partners to initially test systems using Calxeda and later other ARM and x86 chips
Last week, ARM Holdings CTO Mike Muller announced his firm’s upcoming v8 architecture and first 64-bit instruction set to effectively push ARM architecture into new segments of both the consumer and enterprise markets, including the server space.
ARM’s v8 will support both 32-bit and 64-bit applications, said Muller, addressing a major issue in the firm’s server space aspirations. Intel and its supporters have long argued that without 64-bit, ARM would simply lack the memory needed to support legacy software.
“ARM’s announcement is proof that 64-bit is essential,” an Intel spokesman told EE Times, adding, “without it, ARM’s hopes to enter the server space would have been challenging and difficult.”
ARM has long been toying with the idea of having dense, ultra-low power servers based around its architecture, targeted at the exponentially growing mega-datacenter market serving the cloud.
Indeed, there is an argument that clouds hosted by companies such as Amazon Inc., Google Inc. and even Apple Inc. don’t need as much compute power as they do lower-power consumption and the ability to fit more compute engines into a smaller space. After all, the applications that run on the aforementioned clouds are fairly simple and can largely be parallelized.
One could argue, as HP and Calxeda are now doing, that even the current lack of 64-bit ARM architecture should not prevent firms from picking these new non-x86 microservers for certain applications. HP has even gone on record to say it does see a role for 32-bit ARM servers in the market.
The newly announced HP “Redstone” development system, which swapped out x86 in favor of 18 10-inch by 3-inch Calxeda EnergyCard servers, sporting four SOC quad-core server nodes, purportedly needs just 5W per server and 20W per card maximum power draw. In addition, each server tray of 72 quad-core ARM servers takes up just one rack unit equivalent of space.
Those two factors alone, and the idea of giving throughput per Watt such a boost, make the HP/Calxeda project interesting enough for evaluation as an alternative when it comes to HPC and hyperscale web computing, 64-bit compatible or not.
Intel, however, is not likely to feel immediately concerned. After all, it too is moving forward rapidly and even coined the term “microserver” with its announcement two years ago that it would start making server products using low power versions of its 64-bit Xeon and Atom chips.
The chip giant has not only published a microserver specification, but runs its own development lab for microservers and has customers like Dell, NEC, Hitachi, and Super Micro already selling its low-power server products to customers. “We are currently the only company in the microserver market,” Intel’s spokesman said.
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