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AMD looks to streamline data centres with Open 3.0 platform

AMD appeared on stage at the Open Computing Summit earlier this week to show off an upcoming open hardware platform called Open 3.0. The new platform is intended to reduce costs and rack space in data centres by using a single motherboard design that can be customised for certain workloads using add-in cards and hardware configurations.

The new Open 3.0 platform is AMD’s physical implementation of the Open Compute specification released back in May 2012, and was developed by AMD with help from the Open Compute Project and finance IT industry partners.

The Open 3.0 motherboard is an AMD G34 motherboard powered by two Opteron 6000-series processors. It features 24 DDR3 DIMM slots (four channels with three DIMMs per channel, 12 per CPU), six SATA connectors, up to four PCI-e slots, and a single mini-Mezzanine connector for custom modules. The board’s rear IO is kept to a minimum with two Gigabit Ethernet jacks, two serial connectors, two USB ports, and a BCM 5725 Out of Band management jack.

The Open 3.0 motherboard measures 16in by 16.5in and can be used in 1U, 1.5U, 2U, and 3U server chassis in 19in racks as well as in Open Rack environments (an Open Compute specification). AMD has designed the modular motherboard so that it resembles the letter “T”, with the lower portion that contains the expansion slots being thinner than the upper part where the dual processors and memory slots reside. This allows AMD to squeeze in two server-class power supplies below the RAM and next to the expansion cards. As a result, there is more rack depth available for additional cooling or disk drives.

AMD is positioning the board as being capable of high performance computing (HPC), cloud applications, and storage workloads, while being more power efficient, taking up less rack space, and costing less than traditional options. Data centres that use the Open 3.0 motherboards as a base throughout their racks can customise individual servers to serve various workloads while retaining the ability to centrally manage all of the servers using a common framework of software tools (based on the Open Compute Open Hardware Management initiative).

On the high performance computing end, the Open 3.0 motherboard would be paired with two AMD Opteron 6386 SE processors, four DDR3 1600MHz DIMMs per CPU (1866MHz should be supported in the future), between six and ten SATA drives (ten using an add-in card), a standard sized (or two half-height) PCI-e card such as a GPU, and a 10Gb NIC using an add-in card via the Mezzanine slot. That configuration can fit within a 1U chassis and along with a GPU, could offer up respectable computing performance, especially when you consider multiple servers in many racks.

For situations requiring lots of mass storage, the modular motherboard can be placed in a 3U chassis (the above image shows an Open 3.0 Platform in a 3U chassis) and configured with up to 35 SATA or SAS 2.5in hard drives, 12 DDR3 1600MHz DIMMs per CPU, and four full-height PCI-e expansion cards. That configuration would allow for up to 35TB of storage per server.

The hardware platform can also be scaled back with less mass storage and lower power processors for general purpose cloud applications. AMD Server Business Corporate Vice President and General Manager Suresh Gopalakrishnan further hinted at Common Slot support within AMD’s future open hardware specifications, as well as possible integration of SeaMicro’s Freedom Fabric interconnect technology between Open 3.0 motherboards using add-in cards during the Open Computing Summit event.

The open hardware platform is an interesting move for AMD, and makes for a logical step following the company’s acquisition of SeaMicro, and stated goals of increased relevance in the rapidly growing server market.

The Open 3.0 hardware in particular seems to align well with AMD’s stated intentions of focusing on offering lower cost, power efficient hardware for the masses rather than pure performance. There are hints of influences taken from its SeaMicro division, where the new motherboards are stripped of extras and have been redesigned to fit within a smaller profile. Unlike the SeaMicro technology, however, the Open 3.0 motherboard hardware is not tied to a single manufacturer.

As it is, Open Compute and AMD’s Open 3.0 represent a nice middle ground between traditional off-the-shelf server boards, the custom systems SeaMicro sells, and the special-built, custom setups that cloud giants such as Google and Facebook piece together to power their websites. Open 3.0 is a good thing for AMD because many manufacturers can tap into the Open Compute platform to build boards and servers for anyone to get their hands on.

Supporting Open Compute with its new Opteron 6300-powered hardware should net AMD more design wins with system integrators and server customers alike. ODMs will take to Open 3.0 because it will be easier for them to offer the AMD-powered option when manufacturers have an Open Compute server design that can support either Intel or AMD hardware. Meanwhile, customers are not locked into a single vendor for motherboard replacements, and future motherboard and CPU upgrade paths are left open to both Intel and AMD options thanks to the shared base Open Compute specification.

AMD is providing pre-production Open 3.0 platform boards manufactured by Tyan and Quanta to select customers now, and production systems will be available from a number of system integrators (Avnet, Penguin Computing, et al) before the end of Q1 2013.

Watch AMD’s Suresh Gopalakrishnan introduce the Open 3.0 platform at the Open Computing Summit:

You might also want to take a look at the AMD Open 3.0 platform overview [PDF].