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Hardware Systems Born for the Cloud & Big Data

It’s the first time AMD has gone into the storage business

AMD finds itself in the increasing novel situation - sorta like Microsoft with its promised Surface tablets - of possibly competing against its OEMs with a system - and not just a box with Intel chips in it - which is novel enough, imagine AMD selling Intel chips - but a complete plug-and-play system with scads of external storage that it's building itself.

It's the first time AMD has gone into the storage business and it owes this little adventure in vertical integration to its $334 million acquisition of micro server maker SeaMicro earlier this year.

SeaMicro builds dense, energy-efficient micro servers that are aimed at the 500 top clouds and Big Data houses. AMD bought SeaMicro out from under Intel in February as a way to backstroke out of its evaporating PC pool.

Ironically it was Intel that predicted that micro servers would claim 10% of the server market by 2015.

Back when it was bought SeaMicro's widgetry only used Intel chips, first Atoms then in the spring Xeons. The next iteration of SeaMicro's machines, due to appear in November, will be the first time SeaMicro uses an AMD processor. It will also have a follow-on to the Intel boxes it currently sells.

More importantly, with this new SM15000 generation SeaMicro will be able realize the vision it's been working on for 15 months.

It's taken its Freedom Supercompute Fabric and extended it outside its server chassis to massive disk arrays worth five petabytes of external storage with some newfangled second-generation Freedom Fabric Storage technology.

It drags data closer to the compute in the possible 64 servers in the tight 17.5 inch-high SM15000 system.

Once these disks are interconnected with the fabric, they are seen and shared by all servers in the system.

Since this approach replaces expensive and complex NAS and SAN solutions with low-cost direct-attached storage, it ain't gonna be an exercise in friending NetApp or EMC. And if the customer wants, the disks can be SSDs.

Former SeaMicro CEO Andrew Feldman, now head of AMD's Data Center Server Solutions Group, says, "We are at the beginning of a new wave of computing that requires data centers to become pools of computing and storage resources with the flexibility to expand in both dimensions. The SM15000 system removes the constraints of traditional servers and allows data centers to expand compute, networking and storage independently."

"Historically," he reflects, "server architecture has focused on the processor, while storage and networking were afterthoughts. But increasingly cloud and Big Data customers are looking for a solution in which storage, networking and compute are in balance and are shared.

"In a legacy server, storage is a captive resource for an individual processor, limiting the ability of disks to be shared across multiple processors, causing massive data replication and necessitating the purchase of expensive storage area networking or network-attached storage equipment. AMD's SeaMicro SM15000 server enables companies, for the first time, to share massive amounts of storage across hundreds of efficient computing nodes in an exceptionally dense form factor. We believe that this will transform the data center compute and storage landscape."

The SM15000 and its extended fabric can be had immediately with Intel's E3-1260L Sandy Bridge Xeon and in November there will be compute cards fitted with a new Opteron based on the so-called Piledriver core, as well as the newly announced Intel Xeon E3-1265Lv2 Ivy Bridge processor.

The eight-core Opteron will come with clock rates of 2.0/2.3/2.8GHz supporting up to 64GB of DRAM per processor - 512 cores and more than 4TB of DRAM per system.

The Ivy Bridge is a 2.5/3.1GHz quad-core processor that supports 32 gigs of DRAM. A SeaMicro SM15000 server configured with 64 of the Xeons will have 256 cores and 2TB of DRAM or 1,024 cores in a standard rack.

The Opteron will support more external storage. Since a SM15000 server is 10 rack units tall, a one-rack four-system cluster provides 2,024 cores, 16TB of DRAM, and is capable of supporting 20PB of storage.

You can also figure on up to 64 SATA solid state or hard disk drives within the system; Freedom Fabric Storage with a capacity of up to 1,408 solid state or hard disk drives; and up to 16 10-gigabit Ethernet links or up to 64 one-gigabit Ethernet uplinks.

The SM15000 server has 16 fabric extender slots, each of which can connect to three different Freedom Fabric Storage arrays with different capacities:

  • FS 5084-L is an ultra-dense capacity-optimized storage system. It supports up to 84 SAS/SATA 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives in five rack units for up to 336TB of capacity per array and over 5PB per SM15000 system;
  • FS 2012-L is a capacity-optimized storage system. It supports up to 12 3.5-inch or 2.5-inch drives in two rack units for up to 48TB of capacity per array or up to 768TB of capacity per SM15000 system;
  • FS 2024-S is a performance-optimized storage system. It supports up to 24 2.5-inch drives in two rack units for up to 24TB of capacity per array or up to 384TB of capacity per SM15000.

The platforms are supposed to consume a quarter of the power, take up a sixth of the space and deliver 16 times the bandwidth of the servers typical of the giant farms that now dot the landscape. They also eliminate top-of-the-rack switching, load balancing, console servers and costly error-prone cabling.

The micro servers run off-the-shelf operating systems including Windows, Linux and Red Hat and support VMware and Citrix XenServer hypervisors. SeaMicro figures they're ideal for Big Data applications like Apache Hadoop and Cassandra for public and private cloud deployments.

Feldman said the SM15000, regardless of chip, starts at $139,000. Fully burdened they'd probably go for about a half-million dollars.

Intel and ARM are racing to catch up and Feldman expects them to have something credible by the second half of next year. If they do SeaMicro will put out versions of its widgetry that use them. Its fabric was developed to be processor-agnostic and is supposed to be the only fabric technology designed to work with CPUs that have both large and small cores, as well as x86 and non-x86 processors.

Until then SeaMicro can sell its servers direct - 500 accounts aren't many for 20 salesmen to handle - or they can go through OEMs if outfits like IBM, Dell and HP are interested. They're still in the talking stage.

SeaMicro's customers reportedly include France Telecom, Skype, Rogers Wireless, Mozilla, eHarmony, NTT Docomo and China Netcom.

SeaMicro's ASICs are made by Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing but the boxes are made in the USA.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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