Tilera targets simple cloud tasks with 36-core processors

The 16- and 36-core Tile-Gx processors are designed for embedded and large-scale web applications, though code needs to be tweaked to run on their RISC architecture
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor

Tilera has released two low-energy multicore processors for basic cloud applications and networking equipment, though code needs to be tweaked for their non-x86 RISC architecture.

On Monday, the 36 and 16-core Tile-Gx 64-bit processors went on general sale to customers across the world, Tilera announced. For some months, the processors have been shipping to major networking, defence and web companies for evaluation testing, the start-up chip designer said.

"Tilera has outperformed our early expectations given its proprietary instruction set implementation," Bob Wheeler, a senior analyst with the Linley Group, told ZDNet UK. "The company is riding the open-source wave, which has reduced legacy compatibility requirements for various applications. The company can serve multiple markets, so it doesn't have to succeed in cloud computing just to survive."

The 40nm processors are based on a RISC architecture and consume much less power than current x86 Intel chips. For example, the 36-core 1.2GHz Gx8036 processors consume 25W of power, compared with a 4-core 3.2GHz Sandy Bridge chip from Intel, which consumes 95W.

Tilera sits alongside ARM as a company whose chips are about to appear in the server market, which is dominated by x86 chips from Intel and AMD. Like those from ARM, Tilera's chips are a non-x86 architecture. Intel is preparing its own multicore chip — Knights Corner — but this is squarely targeted at high-performance computing tasks, rather than Tilera’s which is aimed at basic cloud applications like Memcached or e-transaction.

"We're not expecting to displace the majority of x86 servers in the world," Bob Doud, Tilera's director of marketing, told ZDNet UK.

Intel has said it will launch its many-integrated-core (MIC) Knights Corner processor later in 2012, while ARM has acknowledged that its 64-bit processors are at least two years away from coming to market.

HP, in partnership with Calxeda, is attempting to bring ARM servers into play via the Project Moonshot scheme, though the first servers will debut with 32-bit capable processors, rather than the 64-bit ones typically used by enterprises.

"Tilera cannot serve a broad range of server applications, but neither can Calxeda," Wheeler said. "TileGx offers a 64-bit architecture today, whereas 64-bit ARM processors are far from sampling.


Tilera's 36-core Tile-Gx chip is destined for servers, said Doud. The company is targeting very, very large businesses: it has a hardware partnership with Taiwanese-based Quanta, which makes servers for Facebook.


Applications need to be coded differently to take advantage of Tilera's architecture. "There is a significant hurdle in porting software, but there is a growing set of customers willing to make this effort in return for superior power efficiency," Wheeler said.

Networking applications

The 16-core processor Tile-Gx is aimed at embedded applications. "Two out of our three [major] markets are embedded systems," explained Doud, adding that the chip has been bought in large quantities by "the names that come to your mind when you think of the top networking companies".

"Wherever you would see a Cavium, NetLogic, FreeScale or Intel [chip] in an embedded appliance, you can expect to see Tilera there," he said.

Tilera plans to launch 64- and 100-core processors later in 2012, said Doud. Pricing was not disclosed.

HP recently said that ARM chips could be doing the processing for 15 to 20 percent of server workloads in a couple of years. When asked whether Tilera could see its chips handline that level of application work, Doud acknowledged it was at the high end of the company's own estimates.

"Something in the 10 to 15 percent market would be just enormous for us," Doud said.

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