SeaMicro releases 768-core Atom server

As the company releases its third high-density server, its chief executive mulls using non-x86 chips and expanding the types of server to those that can be used by small and medium-sized enterprises
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

SeaMicro has packed 768 64-bit Atom cores into a 10-rack unit chassis, offering large companies access to a great amount of processing power in a dense server.

The SM10000-64 HD, released on Monday, is the third generation of servers produced by the company, following on from the 512-core SM10000-64 and the 256-core SM10000.

With the server SeaMicro has gained "access to parts of the market that were previously foreclosed", according to its chief executive, Andrew Feldman. "We've been surprised at the adoption in Hadoop," he added. "We've been very interested in the adoption in both internal and for-resale cloud deployments, along with US government deployments for internal clouds."

Typical SeaMicro customers are keen "to make available a huge amount of [processing power] in a very limited space and power footprint", Feldman said.

Skype is one such customer. It uses the SM10000-64 HD for address lookups for its servers that manage its integration with Facebook, according to Feldman.

SeaMicro's servers use a proprietary networking architecture — based around a toroidal interconnect topology (PDF) — to give them their high levels of density and rapid release cycle.

When you get your architecture right, you can extremely quickly change processors from one form factor.
– Andrew Feldman, SeaMicro

The SM10000-64 HD took about four months to develop, said Feldman. The servers could work with any processor, he said, as their performance comes from the structure of how their chips communicate with one another, which is aided by a custom application-specific integrated circuit (ASIC) and a field-programmable gate array (FPGA).

The FPGAs are dynamically reconfigured to create custom router configurations based on workload requirement, while the ASICs glue the CPUs to the FPGAs. According to SeaMicro, the densities afforded by its design mean its servers use a quarter of the power and take up one sixth of the space compared to standard volume servers.

"When you get your architecture right, you can extremely quickly change processors from one form factor to the other, you can change CPUs from one type to the other, and what your architecture does is it sets a trajectory that will determine your innovative capabilities," Feldman said. "The core [networking] technology allows us to shrink what other people use in hundreds of components into something that's 19-inches wide by 30-inches deep."

Branching out from Intel

SeaMicro has "no allegiance to x86 beyond the fact it is currently best and easiest to sell", Feldman said. "The ball is in [Intel's] court to use, nobody in 2012 is going to use Intel just because they're Intel."

To that end, the company is looking at the Denver processor, a collaboration between Nvidia and ARM, as well as Tilera's massively multicore chips and others, for future servers.

Feldman also hinted that the company is developing servers for small and medium-sized enterprises as well. "We will build smaller systems and build systems with different processors," Feldman said, "and that strategy will unfold over the next couple of years.

"One of the things we learned in the networking industry was if you get the big box right, scaling down is easy. If you get the little box right, there's no reason scaling up will work."

The SM10000-64HD has 384 1.66GHz dual-core Atom N570 processors, 1.536TB of DDR3 DRAM, up to 64 SATA SSDs or HDDs, and 16 10GbE or 64 1GbE uplinks.

Prices start at $237,000 (£147,300) for a server in a base configuration, consisting of 768 cores, 16 HDDs and 16 1GbE ports.

Read Nasa's Spirit rover signs off on Mars on ZDNet UK.

Editorial standards