Firm builds data centre server with 512 Atoms

Low-power server firm SeaMicro, has launched an 'Internet-optimised' x86-server based on 512 Intel Atom processors.

The firm reckons the hardware reduces by 75 per cent the power and space used by servers.

Silicon Valley outfit SeaMicro has been working on the SM10000 server design for three years and has cobbled together the 512 Atom processors with Ethernet switching, server management and application load-balancing to create a 'plug and play' standards-based server that reduces power draw and footprint without requiring any modifications to existing software.

The server boasts 2,048 CPUs per standard rack, and runs off-the-shelf operating systems and applications without change.

SeaMicro reckons that Internet use has changed the way a data centre operates. In the Internet data centre, the challenge is to handle millions of relatively small, independent tasks like those needed for searching, social networking, viewing web pages, and checking email.

Volume servers, the firm said, failed to adapt to this fundamental change. The mismatch between volume servers and the now dominant Internet workload is the primary cause of the big increase in server power consumption. It quotes Environmental Protection Agency figures that show that volume servers consume more than one percent of the total electricity in the US.

But the CPU consumes only one third of the power in a server which means that large improvements in CPU power consumption have only modest impact on the total power consumed. SeaMicro therefore focused on the two-thirds power consumed by the non-CPU components.

The SM10000 design is a high density, low power, single-box cluster computer, optimised for Internet traffic. The firm reckons it has improved total cost of ownership and reduced the power consumed in the server by integrating the functionality traditionally found in an entire data centre rack – compute, storage, networking, server management and load balancing – into a single, low-power system.

Building on the dramatic reductions in power achieved at the system level, SeaMicro was then able to use low-power CPUs, such as Intel’s Atom.

It reckons the Atom is the most efficient CPU for handling Internet workloads, which are now the most common in the data centre.

SeaMicro also patented a new technique in CPU I/O virtualisation, which reduces non-CPU power draw by eliminating 90 per cent of the components from the motherboard. This CPU I/O virtualisation allows SeaMicro to shrink a server motherboard from the size of a pizza box to the size of a credit card.

Its supercomputer-style interconnect fabric can link 512 mini-motherboards into a single system with an order-of-magnitude reduction in power draw and space. This fabric provides 1.28 terabits per-second throughput, with complete security and redundancy, the firm claims.

Additionally, the architecture can support any CPU instruction set and any protocol, including Ethernet, fibre channel, and data centre Ethernet. The firm's Dynamic Compute Allocation Technology combines CPU management and load balancing, allowing the SM10000 to dynamically allocate workloads to specific CPUs on the basis of power-usage metrics.

The technology also enables compute pooling - allowing the user to create pools of computing power for a given application.

SeaMicro’s SM10000 system is comprised of: 512 1.6GHz Intel Atom processors, 1 terabyte of DRAM, 0-64 SATA solid state or hard disk drives and 8-64 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks (or 2-16 10 Gigabit Ethernet uplinks).

The entire system is 10 standard rack units tall (17.5 inches) and the list price for a base configuration is $139,000.