Calxeda is up in ARMs over Intel

ARM-based servers might be a key to datacenter energy savings.
Written by David Chernicoff, Contributor

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.

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