Another entry into the massively multi-core low power server race. Since the fading of other competitors like Calxeda, SeaMicro there hasn’t been a lot of announcements or shipping products that promised to be the low-power vendor of choice. Each time an inventor or entrepreneur stepped up with a lower power or more core device, Intel would kind of blunt the advantage by doing a benchmark and claiming shutting cores off saves more power than using an inherently low power design. The race today as designed by Intel is race to sleep and that’s the benchmark by which they are measuring their own progress in the low power massively multi-core cpu market. However now Cavium is stepping up with an ARM based cpu with 48 cores. So let’s find out what we can about this new chip from this EE Times article.
It appears the manufacturing partner for this new product is Gigabyte who are creating a 2-socket motherboard for the 48-core ARM based CPU. The 48-core cpu is ARMv.8 based and addresses 64bits, so large amounts of RAM can be used with this architecture (a failing of past products from previous manufacturers attempting ARM based servers). Cavium has network processors in the market already using MIPS based CPUs and this new architecture using ARM based chips tries to leverage a lot of their expertise in the network processor market. Architecturally the motherboard interfaces and protocols are still in place, with only a cpu swap being the most noticeable difference. To Cavium is primarily known as a network processor manufacturer, but this move could push them into large scale data cloud type applications, with a tight binding to network operations supplied by their existing network processor products. Dates are still a little hazy, with the end of the calendar year being the most likely time a product has been developed, tested, manufactured and shipped.
I’m so happy to see the pressure being kept up in this one niche of computing. I still think ARM-based CPUs with massive amounts of cores being a new growth area. Similarly the move to 64bits takes away one of the last impediments most buyers pointed out when folks like Calxeda tried to market their wares into the data centers. Bit by bit, each attempt by each startup and each design outfit gets a little closer to a competitive product that might yet go up against the mighty Intel Xeon multi-core cpu.
Wired.com isn’t the best at following the Cloud Data Industry. In fact at least they partially want to keep their advertisers happy so they will publish a Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt raising response direct from an Intel PR Engineer. Happily the Intel folks aren’t even fully aware of what people are doing with their SeaMicro and Quanta SQ-2 boxes and continue to beat the drum on Virtualized Servers on Multi-core, high-clocked chips. That’s the old school thinking on what a Compute Cloud can be. The New School says put the cloud in a single box, let the clock run slower and use less power and everybody wins. Read On:
So Intel gets an interview with a Conde-Nast writer for a sub-blog of Wired.com. I doubt too many purchasers or data center architects consult Cloudline@Wired.com. But all the same, I saw through many thinly veiled bits of handwaving and old saws from Intel saying, “Yes, this exists but we’re already addressing it with our exiting product lines,. . .” So, I wrote in a comment to this very article. Especially regarding a throw-away line mentioning the ‘future’ of the data center and the direction the Data Center and Cloud Computing market was headed. However the moderator never published the comment. In effect, I raised the Question: Whither Tilera? And the Quanta SM-2 server based on the Tilera Chip?
Aren’t they exactly what is described by the author John Stokes as a network of cores on a chip? And given the scale of Tilera’s own product plans going into the future and the fact they are not just concentrating on Network gear but actual Compute Clouds too, I’d say both Stokes and Walcyzk are asking the wrong questions and directing our attention in the wrong direction. This is not a PR battle but a flat out technology battle. You cannot win this with words and white papers but in fact it requires benchmarks and deployments and Case Histories. Technical merit and superior technology will differentiate the players in the Cloud in a Box race. And this hasn’t been the case in the past as Intel has battled AMD in the desktop consumer market. In the data center Intel Fear Uncertainty and Doubt is the only weapon they have.
And I’ll quote directly from John Stokes’s article here describing EXACTLY the kind of product that Tilera has been shipping already:
“Instead of Xeon with virtualization, I could easily see a many-core Atom or ARM cluster-on-a-chip emerging as the best way to tackle batch-oriented Big Data workloads. Until then, though, it’s clear that Intel isn’t going to roll over and let ARM just take over one of the hottest emerging markets for compute power.”
The key phrase here is cluster on a chip, in essence exactly what Tilera has strived to achieve with its Tilera64 based architecture. To review from previous blog entries of this website following the announcements and timelines published by Tilera:
In the bad old days of 1996 when Apple’s marketshare hit rock bottom, everyone fled to Windows 95 en masse. Disparaging the Mac OS every single one of the ‘professional’ technical press predicted the end of Apple. Oh, how wrong they were and the Mac loyal fan-base crowed and shouted with joy that Apple has now achieved a terrific comeback. But, whither the loyal fan-base from days gone by from the Dark Ages pre-Steve, 1996? They will all become part of the iOS collective, they too will be assimilated. Read On:
Rumors of an ARM-based MacBook Air are not new. In May, one report claimed that Apple had built a test notebook featuring the same low-power A5 processor found in the iPad 2. The report, which came from Japan, suggested that Apple officials were impressed by the results of the experiment.
Following up on an article they did back on May 27th, and one prior to that on May 6th, AppleInsider does a bit of prediction and prognosticating about the eventual fusion of iOS and Mac OS X. What they see triggering this is an ARM chip that would be able to execute 64-bit binaries across all of the product lines (A fabled ARM A-6). How long would it take to do this consolidation and interweaving? How many combined updaters, security patches, Pro App updaters would it take to get OS X 10.7 to be ‘more’ like iOS than it is today? Software development is going to take a while and it’s not just a matter of cross-compiling to an ARM chip from a software based on Intel chips.
Given that 64-bit Intel Atom chips are already running on the new Seamircro SM10000 (x64), it won’t be long now I’m sure before the ARM equivalent ARM-15 chip hits full stride. The designers have been aiming for a 4-core ARM design that will be encompassed by the ARM-15 release real soon now (RSN). The next step after that chip is licensed and piloted, tested and put into production will be a 64-bit clean design. I’m curious to see if 64-bit will be applied across ALL the different product lines within Apple. Especially when the issue of power-usage and Thermal Design power (TDM) is considered, will 64-bit ARM chips be as battery friendly? I wonder. True Intel has jumped the 64-bit divide on the desktop with the Core 2 Duo line some time ago and made them somewhat battery friendly. But they cannot compare at all to the 10 hours+ one gets on a 32-bit ARM chip today using the iPad.
Lastly, App Developers will also need to keep their Xcode environment up to date and merge in new changes constantly up to the big cutover to ARM x64. No telling what that’s going to be like apart from the previous 2 problems I have raised here. Apple in the 10.7 Lion run-up was very late in providing the support and tools to allow the developers to get their Apps ready. I will say though that in the history of migrations in Apple’s hardware/software, they have done more of them, more successfully than any other company. So I think they will be able to pull it off no doubt, but there will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth. And hopefully we’ll see something better as the end-users of the technology, something better than a much bigger profit margin for Apple (though that seems to be the prime mover in most recent cases as Steve Jobs has done the long slow fade into obscurity).
If ARM x64 is inevitable and iOS on Everything too, then I’m hoping things don’t change so much I can’t do things similarly to the way I do them now on the desktop. Currently on OS X 10.7 I am ignoring completely:
AppStore (not really because I had to download Lion)
Let’s hope this roster doesn’t get even longer over time as the iOS becomes the de facto OS on all Apple Products. Because I was sure hoping the future would be brighter than this. And as AppleInsider quotes from May 6th,
“In addition to laptops, the report said that Apple would ‘presumably’ be looking to move its desktop Macs to ARM architecture as well. It characterized the transition to Apple-made chips for its line of computers as a ‘done deal’.”