Microservers: New Market, New Vendors And Lots Of Promise

Defining The Microserver Market

The microserver market is so new that the very word "microserver" lacks a solid definition.

Microservers are servers sitting in high-density racks or enclosures with multiple low-power-consumption processors, along with storage and networking resources, that can be configured and quickly reconfigured for any number of data center or cloud applications. Microservers could be used as general-purpose servers. However, since most are not x86-compatible, they are much more likely to play application-specific roles. Furthermore, unlike general-purpose servers, individual compute nodes within a microserver, along with related storage and networking resources, can also typically be reconfigured for new applications on the fly. Not included in this definition are servers like Hewlett-Packard's HP ProLiant MicroServer Gen8, which are general-purpose servers targeting small business or SOHO users.

Here's a look at five processors used in the microserver market, followed by several of the latest microservers.

Chips: AMD Opteron X-Series

AMD claims its contribution to the microserver market, the "Kyoto" Opteron X-series, offers the highest density and power efficiency of any small-core x86 processor, including Intel's Atom.

Unveiled in May, the AMD Opteron X-Series was optimized for scale-out server architectures. They come in two versions. The AMD Opteron X2150 consumes as little as 11 watts and integrates CPU and GPU engines with a high-speed bus on a single die. This lets customers use AMD Radeon HD 8000 graphics technology for multimedia-oriented server workloads. The AMD Opteron X1150, which consumes as little as 9 watts, is a CPU-only version for general scale-out workloads.

Chips: Applied Micro Circuits X-Gene

Applied Micro Circuit, Sunnyvale, Calif., is the developer of the X-Gene family of ARM processors, based on the ARM v8 64-bit architecture.

The X-Gene is a fully integrated, enterprise-class server-on-chip (SoC) module with offload engines to support software-defined networking (SDN), security or other user-defined applications. It combines 10- and 40-Gbit mixed signal I/O.

Chips: Calxeda EnergyCore ECX-2000

Calxeda in October unveiled its new EnergyCore ECX-2000 ARM modules, which run at up to 1.8GHz compared with 1.1GHz in the Austin, Texas-based company's original ECX-1000 modules. The ECX-2000, like the ECX-1000, has a 32-bit instruction set, but also features an extra 8 bits for memory address extension, allowing each processor to address 16 GB of memory, or four times the original.

The new SoC modules are certified for use with the Canonical Ubuntu 13.10 operating system and work with the Havana release of OpenStack. There also is a development cloud that allows Apache open-source software to run on the modules. They run Inktank's enterprise version of the open-source storage software Ceph as well.

Looking forward, Calxeda plans to launch a 64-bit ARM module, code-named Sarita, which will be pin-compatible with the new ECX-2000. Sarita will be followed by Lago, a higher-performance 64-bit ARM module that is not pin-compatible with the ECX-2000.

Chips: Intel Atom C2000

Intel in September unveiled its new 64-bit Atom C2000 processor family, a line of quad-core processors the company said has six times the energy efficiency and seven times the performance of its predecessor, the 32-bit Atom C1200 Centerton.

The new Atom C2000 processors, built using Intel's 22nm process technology, come in two flavors. The "Avoton" version is targeted at builders of low-power, highly dense servers and as such competes against the ARM processors. The "Rangeley" version is aimed at networking devices that can be optimized to run lightweight workloads, such as dedicated hosting, distributed memory caching and static Web serving.

The new Intel Atom C2000 processors are expected to be upgraded in 2014 using Intel's 14nm manufacturing process.

Chips: Tilera TILE-Gx72

San Jose, Calif.-based Tilera in February unveiled its TILE-Gx72processor, which features 72 power-efficient cores and four high-performance DDR3 memory controllers targeting future generations of network, multimedia and cloud infrastructures.

The TILE-Gx72 is targeted at compute and I/O-intensive applications such as Layer 2 to 7 networking and firewall appliances, SDN infrastructures, network monitoring and analytics, Layer 7 Deep Packet Inspection (DPI), compute offload network interface cards, intrusion prevention and detection, big data transaction processing, streaming video, and high-definition video conferencing.

Each of the 72 64-bit cores in the TILE-Gx72 integrates L1 and L2 cache and features the company's iMesh two-dimensional multi-tier interconnect for over 110 terabits per second of bandwidth interconnecting cores, caches, I/O devices and DDR3 memory controllers. The processors also support eight 10Gbps Ethernet ports, configurable as 32 1Gbps ports, as well as six PCIe ports.

Servers: AMD SeaMicro SM15000

AMD this month said its AMD SeaMicro SM15000 microserver is the first server to support bare-metal provisioning in OpenStack compute environments.

The AMD SeaMicro SM15000, based on technology from AMD's 2012 acquisition of server vendor SeaMicro, integrates compute, storage and networking into a 10U chassis with 512 compute cores. Its Freedom fabric lets customers adjust the compute, storage and networking performance and capacity depending on application requirements, allowing any server to be mapped to any storage device or network I/O.

AMD said bare metal computing dedicated a server inside its SM15000 to a single user instance instead of sharing resources by running multiple virtual machines. The AMD SeaMicro SM15000 also allows booting and installation of a base server image from a central server for massive OpenStack deployments. The SeaMicro supports AMD Opteron and Intel Xeon and Atom processors.

Servers: Avantek ARM Server

Leicestershire, U.K.-based Avantek Computer offers a 3U ARM Cortex-A9 processor-based server featuring 48 server nodes and up to 48 SSDs or 24 hard drives plus 24 SSDs, with 1:1 node-to-drive mapping. The solution can scale to up to 4,096 nodes, with power consumption of 5 Watts per node.

Each 3U chassis, with 48 nodes, includes 192 processor cores and 192 GB of RAM, with a total power consumption of fewer than 150 Watts, the company said.

Servers: Boston Viridis 2.0

The Boston Viridis 2.0 microserver from Hertfordshire, U.K.-based Boston Ltd. is based on six Calxeda EnergyCore ECX-2000 cards, each of which hosts two four-core SoCs running at 1.8GHz with as little as 6 Watts. The ECX-2000 cards are based on the dual-core ARM Cortex A15 processor.

The Boston Viridis 2.0 is certified to run Ubuntu 13.10, and it runs the OpenStack Havana platform for public, private and hybrid clouds.

The server supports memory capacity of up to 16 GB, as well as KVM and Xen virtualization. It comes with an integrated 80-Gbit-per-second Fleet Fabric switch.

Servers: Exxact Quantum AR02012-0

Fremont, Calif.-based Exxact's Quantum AR02012-0 is a 2U server for Web server, cloud and general applications.

Each server supports up to 12 ARM A9 Cortex quad-core CPU systems, each of which is an 8-core, 64-bit SoC, for a total of up to 48 cores. The server also has space for up to 24 2.5-inch hot-swap hard drives with a total capacity of up to 48 GB and up to 12 10-Gbit-per-second SFP+ uplinks.

The servers can be configured for varying balance between CPU performance and network I/O.

Servers: HP Project Moonshot

Hewlett-Packard in October said an upcoming new server module for its Moonshot server line will be based on the latest, higher-performance version of Calxeda's EnergyCore ECX-2000 family of ARM processor-based SoC technology.

HP, which in late 2011 built its original Moonshot platform using Calxeda ARM processor technology but never made the technology generally available, is now officially in the high-density, ARM-based server business.

Moonshot servers, which feature a standard chassis into which purpose-built server modules based on multiple processor technologies can be used, are currently commercially available only with the Intel Atom S1200 Centerton processors.

Servers: Mitac 7 Star Server System

Taiwan-based Mitac International in July unveiled its new range of 64-Bit ARMv8 processor-based servers, dubbed the 7 Star. The 7 Star server features the ARMv8-compliant 64-bit eight-core X-Gene processor from Applied Micro Circuits.

The new server features 18 front-loaded compute blades in a 4U chassis, with each blade hosting one ARMv8 64-bit SoC, two DDR3 DIMM slots, up to two 2.5-inch SATA hard drives, a 10-Gbit SFP+ port, and a Gbit Ethernet port.