Diggin' technology every day

June 14, 2010

Sea Micro launches 512 core Atom server

Filed under: News,Virtualization — Nate @ 7:55 pm

An article from our friends at The Register talks about a new server design to hit the market. A very innovative solution from a recently decloaked stealth startup Sea Micro based on the Intel Atom processor, called the SM 10000.

Looks to be targetted at the hyperscale arena, SGI tried something similar to this last year with their Microslice design, though it’s not nearly as efficient as this box is.

The SM1000 is a fairly radical departure from current designs, perhaps the closest design I’ve come across to this SM monster is a design from Dell’s DCS division a few years ago that The Register reported on. This goes several steps beyond that by including in a single 10U chassis:

  • Up to 512 Atom CPUs each with up to 2GB memory
  • Up to 64  x 2.5″ disks
  • Integrated ethernet switching and load balancing
  • Integrated terminal server
  • Virtualized I/O

This is targetted to a specific application – mainly web serving. The massive amount of parallelism in the system combined with the low power foot print (a mere 4W/server) can provide a high amount of throughput for many types of web applications. The ability to have SSDs in the system allow high I/O rates for smaller data sets.

From one of their white papers:

[..]hardware-based CPU I/O virtualization enables SeaMicro to eliminate 90 percent of the components from the server and to shrink the motherboard to the size of a credit card. Hundreds of these low-power, card-sized computational units are tied together with a supercomputer-style fabric to create a massive array of independent but linked computational units. Work is then distributed over these hundreds of CPUs via hardware- and software-based load-balancing technology that dynamically directs load to ensure that each of the CPUs is either in its most efficient zone of performance or is sleeping. The key technologies reside in three chips of SeaMicro’s design, one ASIC and two FPGAs, and in the management, routing, and load-balancing software that directs traffic across the fabric.

It’s clearly targeted at the scale out web serving market, the likes of Google, Facebook, Yahoo. These aren’t general purpose servers, I saw some stupid posts on Slashdot mentioning trying to run VMware on or something on top of this. The system is virtualized at the hardware level, there’s no need for a software hypervisor running on top.

From another white paper, talking about the virtualized disk technology:

The SeaMicro SM10000 can be configured with 0 to 64 2.5 inch SATA hard disk drives (HDD) or solid state drives (SSD). The 512 CPUs in the system can be allocated portions of a disk or whole disks. A physical disk (HDD or SSD) can be divided into multiple virtual disks – from 2GB to the maximum capacity of the disk – and assigned to one or more CPUs. Data resiliency is maintained by marking a disk to be part of a RAID pool or by assigning multiple disks to a CPU. The system can be configured to run with or without disk, ensuring the flexibility to appropriately provision storage for the desired applications

My only questions at this stage would be:

  • How well does it work? Not knowing the internals of where they got their ethernet switching or load balancing technology from, or even RAID technology.
  • Their CPU of choice is 32-bit. For many workloads this is fine, though many others need 64bit.
  • Questions on how the shared disks work – you have the ability to take a SSD for example and put shared application code on a read only portion of the disk that can be read by as many servers in the system as you want, I suppose to take maximum advantage of the technology in the system you may have to make some changes to your application(s), it would be cool if they offered the ability to have the shared disk be writable by more than one system, using a cluster file system or something. Maybe this is possible I don’t know.

A Base configuration starts at about $139,000 according to The Register. No mention of what that includes though.

Certainly seems to be a system that has a lot of promise for the market it is targetted towards!

Did I ever mention I love technology?

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