Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

Summary: ARM-based servers might be a key to datacenter energy savings.

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After Intel's recent official dissing of the concept of the ARM processor in the datacenter, Calxeda (formerly Smooth Stone) announced 10 new software partners for the ARM-based datacenter servers. They also reiterated their position that it is the costs of power that will drive datacenter operators to their server designs and that they will be able to accomplish many common datacenter tasks using only 1/10th the power consumed by competitors systems.

Rather than taking the approach that Intel is pursuing with their next generation 64-bit low power Atom processors Calxeda is building a 32-bit, four-core ARM A9 variant, that combined with its in-house developed interconnect, memory controller and 4 GB of memory will draw less than 5 watts for a complete server node. They plan to squeeze 120 of these 4 core nodes into a single 2U rack server, which they claim will deliver performance equivalent to today's 40U rack of conventional servers while using only 1/10th the power and at half the equipment cost.

It looks like the Calxeda design is not a massively parallel computer, or even some form of NUMA device, but should be thought of a squeezing that 40U rack of independent servers down into a single 2U box. Given how many servers are used in this fashion in datacenters offering hosting servers and the potential cloud marketplace, this doesn't seem like a bad idea.

Very importantly, one of the 10 software partners that were announced is Canonical, the company that does the commercial distribution of Ubuntu Linux. This gives potential customers, who are already likely Linux shops, a familiar face when the servers do eventually publicly launch. These early adopters and partners are expected to receive hardware by the end of the year.

This really is a wait and see situation. If Calxeda is able to deliver on their promise, they could quickly become the server of choice for commercial hosting providers already on Linux, as there will be easily demonstrable energy savings on a simple 1 to 1 replacement basis as existing hardware ages out. And the cascade effect of requiring that much less power for servers means that the datacenter becomes more efficient to operate and becomes much more expandable without doing anythingto the existing physical infrastructure.  This could be an incredibly compelling business case for cloud providers if Calxeda can pull it off.

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

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11 comments
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  • Would have been interesting 2 years ago but Intel is now on a low power

    path that takes away ARMs power advantage while keeping their own processing advantages.By the time these are out intel chips will have them beta at both games. Game, set, and datacenter to intel...
    Johnny Vegas
    • For now, it looks like the path takes too long time to complete; ARM design

      @Johnny Vegas: ... still more energy-effective.
      DDERSSS
      • We shall see. Time will tell.

        @DeRSSS The problem is that Intel has its own fabs and is a leader in manufacturing. Not only are they ahead of the competition it appears that the lead is getting extended.

        If this keeps up Intel could catch up with ARM on efficiency, not so much due to processor technology but manufacturing technology.
        DevGuy_z
      • RE: Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

        @DeRSSS

        From what I've read, I think you might be right. Intel is pushing forward and trying to get far more energy efficient but ARM is getting faster and Intel might not be able to get to the point where they're low enough with power consumption to best the ARM offerings at that time. We shall we what happens :)
        josh92
      • RE: Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

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    • RE: Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

      @Johnny Vegas Of course, the bigger question is whether ARM will be standing still here. Some ARM licensees, such as Qualcomm, have a license to the architecture themselves, rather than specific cores, so they can design custom cores accordingly (in fact, Intel themselves once did precisely this for PocketPC/Windows Mobile/Palm devices).
      Third of Five
  • RE: Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

    You might get less watts per clock cycle, but you'll get less done per cycle with an ARM than an x86 ;)
    vel0city
  • RE: Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

    The ARM is a RISC chip so it can run at more cycles per second. Therefore getting over any disadvantage of using 1 cycle to do one simple instruction.
    ProfQuatermass
    • CISC processors already doing 4 instructions per cycle

      @ProfQuatermass And actually most modern day RISC chips do less cycles per second (maybe you meant more instructions per second). Cycles per second is a function of the clock speed and with exception of the IBM Power line, CISC chips enjoy almost 3x the cycles per second.

      And CISC chips (x86) can average 4 instructions per cycle on a single core using pipe-lining. Of course that means lots of transistors so it costs power.

      The main advantage of ARM is power.
      DevGuy_z
  • RE: Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

    So who is building a data center that doesn't use 64 bit?
    haitge@...
    • RE: Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

      @haitge@...

      I found that unusual as well.
      josh92