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Calxeda EnergyCore ARMs the Server Market

By Sean Kerner (Send Email)
Posted November 2, 2011


To date, ARM-based microprocessors have been used mostly in consumer electronics. Thanks to a new push from ARM vendor Calxeda, ARM will soon find a home in data center servers, too.

Calxeda announced on Tuesday its ARM-based EnergyCore Server-on-Chip (SoC) architecture, which includes an 80-Gigabit fabric switch on the same piece of silicon. The EnergyCore is a critical component of HP's Project Moonshot effort that aims to use low-energy ARM-based servers to reduce data center cost and complexity.

"The pace of new server deployments today is constrained by the industry's best efforts to roll out more space and generate more energy," Barry Evans CEO of Calxeda said during the company's launch event. "The mission that we're on is to revolutionize that and free us from the constraints."

The first step in the revolution is the EnergyCore, which has scaling technology that allows thousands of nodes to be connected at a low cost for power and overhead. The EnergyCore architecture isn't for all types of workloads. Evans noted that initially it's well-suited for workloads that require high throughput and scale out. Applications, such as offline analytics, web applications (including storage and file serving apps) are workloads that Evans sees as being a good fit for the EnergyCore.

The Calexeda EnergyCore has four processor cores, each of which has four SATA ports. The SoC design makes the EnergyCore deployment very compact -- to the degree that HP is able to fit 288 quad-core processors in a 4 RU space. Evans noted each individual ARM processor is not necessarily a fast chip, coming in at a clock speed of up to 1.4 Ghz.

"Is it blazingly fast? No," Evans said. "Is it fast enough? Yes."

Evans said that that Calxeda EnergyCore has 4 MB of Level 2 cache as well as its own integrated fabric switch. Evans referred to the fabric switch as the secret sauce that differentiates Calxeda.

"Frankly, anyone with a decent set of engineers and some money can go get an ARM license and build a quad-core processor," Evans said. "But to turn it into a server you have to be able to scale it."

Evans noted that the applications Calxeda is focused on are all about bandwidth and throughput. As to why Calxeda needs so much bandwidth, Evans said that it's because the goal is to connect many chips together to build a really big system.

"This is not a wimpy fabric," Evans said. "This is a brawny fabric of 80 gigabits on every chip."

Sean Michael Kerner is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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