gpu mobile technology

Rise of the Multi-Core Mesh Munchkins: Adapteva Announces New Epiphany Processor – HotHardware

Epiphany Processor from Adapteva
Epiphany Block Diagram

Many-core processors are apparently the new black for 2011. Intel continues to work on both its single chip cloud computer and Knights Corner, Tilera made headlines earlier this year, and now a new company, Adapteva, has announced its own entry into the field.

via Rise of the Multi-Core Mesh Munchkins: Adapteva Announces New Epiphany Processor – HotHardware.

A competitor to Tilera and Intel’s MIC  has entered the field as a mobile processor, co-processor. Given the volatile nature of chip architectures in the mobile market, this is going to be hard sell for some device designers I think. I say this as each new generation of Mobile CPU gets more and more integrated features as each new die shrink allows more embedded functions. The Graphic processors are now being embedded wholesale into every smartphone cpu. Other features like memory controllers and baseband processors will now doubt soon be added to the list as well. If Adapteva wants any traction at all in the Mobile market they will need to further their development of the Epiphany into a synthesizable core that can be added to an existing cpu (most likely a design from ARM). Otherwise trying to stick with being a separate auxiliary chip is going to hamper and severely limit the potential applications of their product.

Witness the integration of the graphics processing unit. Not long ago it was a way to differentiate a phone but required it to be integrated into the motherboard design along with any of the power requirements it required. In a very short time, after GPUs were added to cell phones they were integrated into the CPU chip sandwich to help keep manufacturing and power budget in check. If the Epiphany had been introduced around the golden age of discrete chips on cell phone motherboards, it would make a lot more sense. But now you need to be embedded, integrated and 100% ARM compatible with a fully baked developer toolkit. Otherwise, it’s all uphill from the product introduction forward. If there’s an application for the Ephiphany co-processor I hope they concentrate more on the tools to fully use the device and develop a niche right out of the gate rather than attempt to get some big name but small scale wins on individual devices from the Android market. That seems like the most likely candidates for shipping product right now.

cloud data center google technology wintel

ARM server hero Calxeda lines up software super friends • The Register

Company Logo
Maker of the massively parallel ARM-based server

via ARM server hero Calxeda lines up software super friends • The Register.

Calxeda in the news again this week with some more announcements regarding its plans. Remembering recently to the last article I posted on Calxeda, this company boasts an ARM based server packing 120 cpus (each with four cores) into a 2U high rack (making it just 3-1/2″ tall *see note). With every evolution in hardware one must needs get an equal if not greater revolution in software. Which is the point of the announcement by Calxeda of its new software partners.

It’s all mostly cloud apps, cloud provisioning and cloud management types of vendors. And with the partnership each company gets early access to the hardware Calxeda is promising to design, prototype and eventually manufacture. Both Google and Intel have poo-poohed the idea of using “wimpy processors” on massively parallel workloads claiming faster serialized workloads are still easier to manage through existing software/programming techniques. For many years as Intel has complained about the programming tools, it still has gone the multi-core/multi-thread route hoping to continue its domination by offering up ‘newer’ and higher performing products. So while Intel bad mouths parallelism on competing cpus it seems to be desperate to sell multi-core to willing customers year over year.

Even as power efficient as those cores maybe Intel’s old culture of maximum performance for the money still holds sway. Even the most recent Ultra-low Voltage i-series cpus are still hitting about 17Watts of power for chips clocking in around 1.8Ghz (speed boosting up to 2.9Ghz in a pinch). Even if Intel allowed these chips to be installed into servers we’re stilling talking a lot of  Thermal Design Point (TDM) that has to be chilled to keep running.

cloud data center technology wintel

Cloud on a chip: Sometimes the best hypervisor is none at all   • The Register

Image representing Intel as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

On the cloud front, one of the more interesting projects that Held is working on is called the Single-chip Cloud Computer, or SCC for short.

via Cloud on a chip: Sometimes the best hypervisor is none at all   • The Register.

Singe-chip Cloud Computer sounds a lot like that 80 core and 48 core CPU experiments that Intel had been working on a while back. There is a a note that the core is a Pentium 54c and that rings a bell too as it was the same core used for those multi-core CPUs. Now the research appears to be centered on the communications links between those cores and getting an optimal bit of work for a given amount of interconnectivity. Twenty-four cores is a big step down from 80 and 48 cores. I’m thinking Intel’s manufacturing process engineers are attempting to reign in the scope of this research to make it more worthy of manufacture. Whatever happens you will likely see adaptations or bits and pieces of these technologies in a future shipping product. I’m a little disappointed though that the scope has grown smaller. I had real high hopes Intel could pull off a big technological breakthrough with an 80 core CPU, but change comes slowly and Chip Fab lines are incredibly expensive to build, pilot and line out as they make new products. Conservatism is to be expected in an industry that has the highest level of up front capital expenditure required before there’s a return on the investment. If nothing else, companies like Seamicro, Tilera and ARM will continue to goose Intel into research efforts like this and innovate their old serial processors  a little bit more.

On the other side of the argument there is the massive virtualization of OSes on more typical serial style multi-core CPUs from Intel. VMWare and competitors still continue to slice out clock cycles of the Intel processor to make them appear to be more than one physical machine. Datacenters have seen performance compromises using this scheme to be well worth the effort in staff and software licenses given the amount of space saved through consolidation. Less rack space, and power required, the higher the marginal return for that one computer host sitting on the network. But, what this article from The Register is trying to say is if a sufficiently dense multi-core cpu is used and the power requirements scaled down sufficiently you get the same kind of consolidation of rack space, but without the layer of software on top of it all to provide the virtualized computers themselves. A one-to-one relationship between computer core and actual virtual machine can be done without the typical machinations and complications required by a Hypervisor-style OS riding herd over the virtualized computers. In that case, less Hypervisor is more. More robust that is in terms of total compute cycles devoted to hosts, more robust design architecture to minimize single points of failure and choke points. So I say there’s plenty of room to innovate yet in the virtualization industry given that the CPUs and their architectures are in an early stage of innovating massively multi-core cpus.

computers data center science & technology technology

Chip upstart Tilera in the news

Diagram Of A Partial Mesh Network
Diagram Of A Partial Mesh Network

As of early 2010, Tilera had over 50 design wins for the use of its SoCs in future networking and security appliances, which was followed up by two server wins with Quanta and SGI. The company has had a dozen more design wins since then and now claims to have over 150 customers who have bought prototypes for testing or chips to put into products.

via Chip upstart Tilera lines up $45m in funding • The Register.

There’s not been a lot of news about Tilera most recently, but they are still selling products, raising funds through private investments. Their product road map is showing great promise as well. I want to see more of their shipping product get tested in the online technology website arena. I don’t care if Infoworld, Network World, Tom’s Hardware or Anandtech does it. Whether it’s security devices or actual multi-core servers it would be cool to see Tilera compared even if it was an apples and oranges type of test. On paper it appears the mesh network of Tilera’s multi-core cpus is designed to set it apart from any other product currently available on the market. Similarly the ease of accessing the cores through the mesh network is meant to make the use of a single system image much easier as it is distributed across all the cores almost invisibly. In a word Tilera and its next closest competitor SeaMicro are cloud computing in a single solitary box.

Cloud computing for those who don’t know is an attempt to create a utility like the water system or electrical system in the town where you live. The utility has excess capacity, and what it doesn’t use it sells off to connected utility systems. So you always will have enough power to cover your immediate needs with a little in reserve for emergencies. On the days where people don’t use as much electricity you cut back on production a little or sell off the excess to someone who needs it. Now imagine that electricity is computer cycles doing additions, subtractions or longer form mathematical analysis all in parallel and scaling out to extra computer cores as needed depending on the workload. Amazon has a service they sell like this already, Microsoft too. You sign up to use their ‘compute cloud’ and load your applications, your data and just start crunching away while the meter runs. You get billed based on how much of the computing resource you used.

Nowadays, unfortunately, in data centers you got single purpose servers doing one thing, sitting idle most of the time. This has been a going concern so much so that a whole industry has cropped up of splitting those machines into thinner slices with software like VMWare. Those little slivers of a real computer then take up all the idle time of that once single purpose machine and occupy a lot more of its resources. But you still have that full-sized, hog of an old desktop tower now sitting in a 19 inch rack, generating heat and sucking up too much power. Now it’s time to scale down the computer again and that’s where Tilera comes in with it’s multi-core, low power, mesh-networked cpus. And investment partners are rolling in as a result of the promise for this new approach!

Numerous potential customers, venture capital outfits, and even fabrication partners are jumping in to provide a round of funding that wasn’t even really being solicited by the company. Tilera just had people falling all over themselves writing checks to get a piece of the pie before things take off. It’s a good sign in these stagnant times for startup companies. And hopefully this will buy more time for the roadmap to future cpus from the company hopefully scaling up to the 200 core cpu that would be peak achievement in this quest for high performance, low-power computing.