Intel Steps Up Microserver Battle With 'Avoton' SoC Processor

previous generation processors

The C2000 family of processors is the first generation of Intel chips based on its Silvermont core, its low-power SoC processor microarchitecture. It's also a further expansion of the Atom SoC chips into the high-density microserver market, a traditional stronghold for Intel's x86-based Xeon processors.

"As the world becomes more and more mobile, the pressure to support billions of devices and users is changing the very composition of data centers," said Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of the Datacenter and Connected Systems Group at Intel, in a prepared statement.

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The C2000 family is split into two subcategories by Intel, with processors aimed at low-power, dense server clusters code-named Avoton. Chips targeting routers and other network devices are code-named Rangeley. Rangeley chips, Intel said, are highly customizable and can be optimized for specific lightweight workloads, such as entry dedicated hosting, distributed memory caching and static web serving.

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On the Avoton side, Intel is hoping to compete with low-power Risc 32-bit SoC processors used in microservers made by England-based chip designer ARM. The Avoton boasts up to eight cores, with clock speeds up to 2.4GHz and memory support up to 64 GB of DDR3 or DDR3L. Bryant said the Atom C2000 family already has 50 design wins with vendors including Hewlett-Packard, Supermicro and Huawei.

Compared to Intel's previous-generation Atom S1200 chips, which were produced using a 32-nm process, the Avoton uses a 22-nm process, helping it reduce power consumption. Intel says it also supports a greater number of SoC features than S1200, including integrated gigabit Ethernet, SATA and USB 2.0 controllers.

"Intel is providing the key innovations that original equipment manufacturers, telecommunications equipment makers and cloud service providers require to build the data centers of the future," Bryant said.

Intel says the microserver, sometimes called hyperscale, market is small compared to its larger x86 server market dominated by its Xeon processor. However, the move by companies toward microservers is being watched carefully by chip makers AMD, IBM and Intel, along with server builders such as Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. The global market for servers continued to struggle in the second quarter of 2013 with revenue down across the board, according to recent figures from IDC.

HP and IBM, for example, both reported an 11 percent quarterly revenue decline in their traditional x86 server business. On the flip side, Dell reported a 10 percent revenue jump from the previous year that it directly attributes to a booming sale of microservers. IDC reported density-optimized servers now represent 6.2 percent of all server revenue and 10 percent of all server shipments.

"Density-optimized servers achieved the highest growth of any segment in the server market," said Jed Scaramella, research manager in the enterprise server group at IDC, commenting on recent server share data.

The Atom C2000 chips are available now and will be followed in 2014 with code-name Denverton processors, using Intel's 14-nm process, Intel said.