16-core Atom might define the datacenter for Intel

16-core Atom might define the datacenter for Intel

Summary: It's time for Intel to step up and prove they are more than just a one trick pony.

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From the commotion that Dileep Bhandarkar, distinguished engineer in Microsoft's Global Foundation Services made when he mentioned at the Linley Tech Data Center Conference that Microsoft was interested in 16-core versions of Intel's Atom and AMD's Bobcat CPU architectures you would think that the concept of large numbers of low-powered CPUs performing datacenter tasks was a new one.

But in fact it's been almost a year since I started writing about the possibility of Microsoft using Intel Atom architecture or ARM Cortez chips, with lots of cores and in large numbers, as the core CPUs of power miserly servers in energy efficient datacenters (and there have been others who voiced a similar opinion). And the fact that Microsoft announced at CES that there would be a version of Windows for ARM should have been the last piece of the puzzle for anyone concerned about this issue.

But what I hadn't expected was that this could be a make or break moment for Intel.  There's no doubt that there will continue to be a need for the latest generation, cutting edge, top performing CPUs, a market that Intel dominates. But it is just as clear that there will be a huge market for energy-efficient lower-powered CPUs running with large numbers of cores or in massive SMP configurations that will allow the bulk of the datacenter tasks that don't require maximum CPU performance.

With Linux already running on ARM processors and the facilities in place to start to deploy large numbers of multi-core SMP servers running Linux on the very energy efficient ARM cores, the time is now for Intel to step up and show that it's serious about this end of the market. Volume can build market dominance just as easily as technology, and it's up to Intel to put themself into a position not to be eclipsed by ARM in the datacenter.

Topics: Processors, Data Centers, Hardware, Intel, Microsoft, Storage

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13 comments
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  • I can remember Google saying that they did not want "wimpy" cores, because,

    they are trying to make everything as fast as possible, and they need the non-parallelizable part to run as fast as possible to return the results as fast as possible to the end user. So, the question is if they can make the individual Arm or Atom cores "fast enough" for Google? Even then, there are tons of data processing applications that are not so time critical as to matter, where the throughput per watt is what matters the most.
    DonnieBoy
    • Ya because Google wants to tell you what to think as quickly as possible

      Nt
      Joe_Raby
    • Does Google matter?

      @DonnieBoy, There is a much larger market out there beyond Google.
      They respresent an incredibly tiny fraction of overall sales.

      Are you implying that Intel should cater to Google, all other customers be damned?
      Tim Cook
      • Not at all, there are tons of workloads out there, probably even some

        Google workloads that that do NOT need fast turn-around, where the MOST important thing is how many WATTS you need to run the workload.

        But, for some workloads, Google AND OTHERS will be willing to throw more watts at it, in order to get a faster response.
        DonnieBoy
  • RE: 16-core Atom might define the datacenter for Intel

    I'm not yet persuaded that 16 atom cores will handle the same workload better than if it was consolidated on 4 low power XEON cores. With the resource pool becoming less distinct via virtualization I think there might not be a significant advantage in such a multicore server. Especially given that the licencing of most server OS's is on a per-core basis.
    gtasio
    • Hey, YOU could make the Intel execs feel really good about not being able

      to compete on watts needed for a given throughput. The only place that Intel can compete is in the speed at which the non-parallelizable parts can be done.
      DonnieBoy
  • The reason Microsoft wants this...

    ..is for Windows Azure, where they can divide processing tasks up into smaller increments much more easily and charge for the computational bandwidth.

    Azure's processing tiers start at 1.6GHz for the "extra small" tier.
    Joe_Raby
  • The main holdback used to be software

    They had the equivalent of a single-cylinder two-stroke engine, with every increasing cylinder size and RPM as the only way to increase power. Operating systems generally grew up from single-tasking or time-sharing roots, all geared to the "one cylinder" concept. As hardware caching and bus architectures have matured, multi-core chips have greatly increased the capabilities of the computer overall. But operating systems have only recently caught up with the change.<br><br>Larger-scale integration of "cheap" processors makes sense for servers that manage a large number of parallel tasks, either through multi-threading or virtualization. You don't need all the extra overhead of off-chip communication and the attendant packaging incumbent in today's systems if the chip manufacturer can flexibly and economically put it all in one package.

    Whether it's an ARM vendor or Intel who does this is irrelevant to me, I just want a utilitarian and economical solution. More competition is better.
    terry flores
  • RE: 16-core Atom might define the datacenter for Intel

    A few years ago, we were doing some user testing with systems we were considering implementing. One group used machines which occasionally bottled up, but got the job done quickly because they were fast processors. The other used multi-core processors which were less speedy, but didn't bog down. The response of the test scenarios was designed such as to complete both scenarios in the same amount of time. The users invariably felt the machines which were smoother (but had slower processors) were "faster."

    Just something I always remember...
    notinkeys
  • RE: 16-core Atom might define the datacenter for Intel

    Long live AMD with their decision to concentrate on producing multicore parts on the cheap!
    bojin@...
  • RE: 16-core Atom might define the datacenter for Intel

    I've been counting on seeing 8 core 30 watt Atoms ever since they first came out. We may get 16 core 60 watters first.
    mswift@...
  • How about hundreds or thousands of small cores running slowly (say 10MHz)

    Skin is a super-slow, massively-parallel i/o computer.

    Such cores could be just shutdown if not needed. QoS and security would be a lot more granular too, and robust!
    Patanjali
    • RE: 16-core Atom might define the datacenter for Intel

      @Patanjali

      do a search, but zdnet did a blog post sometime in the last 2 years about the 256-core CPU made from Pentium 1 class chips being used for hardware firewall systems.

      you can also find posts on zdnet about intel making 64-core CPUs
      aiellenon