AMD gets into datacentre hardware with SeaMicro update

AMD has introduced new gear based on technology picked up in its SeaMicro acquisition, which lets high-density servers manage vast quantities of storage, potentially transforming the cloud datacentre.
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

AMD has entered the world of servers and storage with new hardware based on technology from its recent acquisition SeaMicro.

SM15000 server
AMD's SM15000 server. Image: Jack Clark

The chipmaker introduced its SM15000 server and Freedom Fabric storage enclosures on Monday. The SM15000 can manage up to 5 petabytes of storage split across 1,408 disks or SSDs, and supports both Intel Ivy Bridge and AMD Opteron processors.

With the move, AMD is trying to tackle headaches in the cloud datacentre by giving servers a greater ability to manage storage.

"You get the ability to transform compute and storage by creating vast combinations of ratios between compute and storage" with the products, said Andrew Feldman, former chief executive of SeaMicro and general manager of AMD's Data Center Server Solutions Team.

"With all this data, you don't know what you need, so you store more of it close to the compute to get access to it," he added.

The SeaMicro technology is designed to help businesses manage large amounts of storage by extending the proprietary Freedom Fabric beyond the server itself. It works with separate storage enclosures that can be chained together, and it allows the server to behave like a SAN. SeaMicro's ASIC-based fabric has 1.2 terabits of bisection bandwidth and is based around a toroidal interconnect topology (PDF).

The SM15000 server comes in both Intel and AMD flavours. The AMD system has 64 sockets, each with an eight-core AMD Opteron processor, adding up to 512 cores, and it supports 4TB of DRAM. The Intel one can run up to 64 quad-core Ivy Bridge Xeon processors, adding up to 256 cores, and supports 2TB of DRAM.

Both servers will be available in November, with a starting price of $139,000 for a 64-processor AMD-based SM15000 with eight disks of storage.

Current SeaMicro customers include Skype, Mozilla and NTT Docomo.

Intel rivalry

The announcement steps up the rivalry between Intel and AMD. SeaMicro started life designing and selling servers based around Intel's Xeon and Atom chips. To begin with, it had strong relations with Intel and partnered with the chipmaker on one of its Xeon-based servers, but it moved away from the company when Intel rival AMD announced plans to acquire SeaMicro for $334m in February.

The buy was seen as an aggressive, canny move. At the time, Oppenheimer analyst Rick Shafer said the deal represented "a potential threat to Intel's server dominance".

The type of servers SeaMicro makes — microservers — are seen as an important hardware category. Intel said in August that microservers currently make up around one or two percent of all servers sold, but expects that by 2015 they will account for around 10 percent. Growth in the category will come from increasing needs for large amounts of low-power compute systems in modern datacentres.

The SM15000 continues SeaMicro's approach of chaining multiple processors together into a single, logical fabric. By extending the fabric beyond the server chassis and into the Freedom Fabric disk enclosures, AMD is targeting large cloud customers who want to use low-cost commodity storage, paired with significant compute resources.

The announcements on Monday indicate that AMD-owned SeaMicro is not stepping entirely away from Intel, as one of the products unveiled was a new SeaMicro card based on an Ivy Bridge server.

However, the moves do send a clear message that AMD is keen to get a foothold in the datacentre by putting its new 'Piledriver' Opteron processors into SeaMicro kit, and by getting into storage.

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