SeaMicro Announces SM10000 Server with 512 Atom CPUs

From where I stand, the SM10000 looks like the type of product that if you could benefit from having it, you’ve been waiting for something like it. In other words, you will have been asking for something like the SM10000 for quite a while already. SeaMicro is simply granting your wish.

via SeaMicro Announces SM10000 Server with 512 Atom CPUs and Low Power Consumption – AnandTech :: Your Source for Hardware Analysis and News.

This announcement that has been making the rounds this Monday June 14th has hit, Anandtech, Slashdot, everywhere. It is a press release full court press. But it is an interesting product on paper for anyone who is doing analysis of datasets using large numbers of CPUs for regressions or large scale simulations too. And it is at it’s core virtual Machines, with virtual peripherals (memory, disk, networking). I don’t know how you benchmark something like this, but it is impressive in its low power consumption and size. It only takes up 10U of a 42U rack. It fits 512 CPUs in that 10U area as well.

Imagine 324 of these plugged in and racked up

This takes me back to the days of RLX Technologies when blade servers were so new nobody knew what they were good for. The top of the line RLX unit had 324 CPUs in a 42U rack. And each blade had a Transmeta Crusoe processor which was designed to run at a lower clock speed and much more efficiently from a thermal standpoint. When managed by the RLX chassis hardware and software and paired up to an F5 Networks load balancer BIG-IP, the whole thing was an elegant design. However the advantage of using Transmeta’s CPU was lost on a lot of people, including technology journalists who bashed it for being too low performance for most IT shops and data centers. Nobody had considered the total cost of ownership including the cooling and electricity. In those days, clock speed was the only measure of a server’s usefulness.

Enter Google into the data center market, and the whole scale changes. Google didn’t care about clock speed nearly as much as lowering its total overall costs for its huge data centers. Even the technical journalists began to understand the cost savings of lowering the clock speed a few hundred megahertz and placing servers more densely into a fixed sized data center. Movements in the High Performance computing also led to large scale installations of commodity servers being all bound together into one massively parallel super computer. More space was needed for physical machines racked up in the data centers. Everyone could see the only way to build out was to build more data centers, build bigger data centers or pack more servers into the existing footprint of current data centers. Manufacturers like Compaq got into the Blade server market, along with IBM and Hewlett Packard. Everyone engineered their own proprietary interfaces and architectures, but all of them focused on the top of the line server CPUs from Intel. As a result, the heat dissipation was enormous and the densities of these blade centers was pretty low (possibly 14 CPUs in a 4U rack mount).

Blue Gene super computer has high density motherboards
Look at all those CPUs on one motherboard!

IBM began to experiment with lower clocked PowerPC chips in a massively parallel super computer called the Blue Gene. In my opinion this started to change people’s belief about what direction data center architectures could go. The density of the ‘drawers’ in the Blue Gene server cabinets is pretty high. Lot more CPUs, power supplies, storage and RAM in each unit than in a comparable base level commodity server from Dell or HP (the previous most common building block for the massively parallel super computers). Given these trends it’s very promising to see what Seamicro has done with its first product. I’m not saying this is a super computer in a 10U box, but there are plenty of workloads that would fit within the scope of this server’s capabilities. And what’s cooler is the virtual abstraction of all the hardware from the RAM, to the networking to the storage. It’s like the golden age of IBM machine partitioning and Virtual Machines but on an Intel architecture. Depending on how quickly they can ramp up production and market their goods, Seamicro might be game changer or it might be a takeover target from the likes of HP or IBM.




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