Intel dials down power for microserver chips

Intel is making low-power dense servers a priority and has outlined four power-conscious chip architectures that it will bring out over this year and the next

Intel is preparing to ship two low-powered Xeon processors for the high-density microserver market, and will deliver similar chips based on its Sandy Bridge and Atom architectures within the next two years.

SeaMicro microserver

Intel is preparing to ship low-powered processors for the microserver market, which includes SeaMicro's 64-bit SM10000-64 server. Photo credit: SeaMicro

The additions to the Xeon E3-1200 family, the E3-1260L and E3-1220L, along with the Sandy Bridge and Atom additions, have been designed for microservers, Intel announced at a press event on Tuesday. A microserver comprises multiple small, one-socket servers sharing the same chassis to provide high-processing density in a relatively small amount of space.

The new Xeons have a thermal design power (TDP) rating of between 20W and 45W per processor and are currently in production, the chipmaker said. It will also make available a 15W Sandy Bridge-based server processor in the second half of 2011 and a sub-10W Atom-based processor in 2012.

"We expect the majority of the microserver category will be taken care of by Xeon," Boyd Davis, vice president in the Intel Architecture Group, said. "We're excited about industry momentum behind this category."

Intel expects the microserver segment to comprise 10 percent of the whole server market over the next four to five years.

The dual-core Xeon E3-1220L runs at 2.20GHz per core, with a 3MB L3 cache and total TDP of 20W. The quad-core Xeon E3-1260L runs at 2.40GHz per core, with an 8MB L3 cache and a total TDP of 45W. The company did not give specific details of the upcoming Sandy Bridge or Atom microserver processors.

Microserver market

Facebook has tested out microservers to provide large amounts of computing power in small environments, Gio Coglitore, the director of Facebook's experimental wing Facebook Labs, said at the event.

There are certain loads that really benefit from the focused approach that the microserver brings to the environment.

– Gio Coglitore, Facebook

"There are certain loads that really benefit from the focused approach that the microserver brings to the environment... [Facebook's] front end is ripe for a microserver deployment," Coglitore said.

One example of a microserver cited by Intel is Dell's Viking high-density server chassis, which can hold eight to 12 individual server sleds in a 3U frame. Another is SeaMicro's 64-bit SM10000-64, which fits 256 dual-core N570 Atom processors into a 10U rack unit, via 64 server cards — each containing four Atom chips.

ARM is Intel's main rival in the microserver sector. Start-up Calxeda is in the process of developing a microserver that relies on 120 ARM Cortex A9 quad-core processors, which run at 5W per chip with supporting infrastructure.

Alongside the main announcement, Intel said it will encourage developers to write programs for the new architectures by launching a web-based 'Intel Micro Server Evaluation Lab'. The site will allow programmers to simulate their software running on a variety of the new architectures, to gauge performance and aid in fine-tuning.

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