The micro-server market has gotten a little hotter with the introduction of the first Fedora-powered servers running CPUs based on the ARM microarchitecture normally found in smartphones and tablets. The Viridis microservers come from UK vendor Boston Ltd. and run on ARM chips from Calxeda and the Fedora 18 Linux operating system.
The CPU technology comes courtesy of Calxeda, the Austin, Texas-based ARM design house that’s also working with Dell on the Zinc line of ARM servers and HP on the Moonshot line of ARM servers. Its chip, called EnergyCore, is based on the ARM Cortex-A9 processor—except it’s a full system-on-a-chip with 4MB of cache, a network fabric switch to connect thousands of nodes and a management engine for power optimization, all while consuming just 1.5 watts of power.
For this project, Calxeda worked with server vendor Boston Limited to create a cluster of four 24 SoC high-density ARM servers using Calxeda EnergyCore chips and running the most recent version of Fedora from Red Hat. This is the first migration for the Fedora Project to a production ARM data center level server.
A real brawl is brewing for this new chunk of data center business. In many use cases, you want the fastest and most powerful chips, whether Intel Xeon, AMD Opteron, IBM Power and Oracle UltraSparc. But many tasks, such as serving up HTML pages or file and print serving, don’t require these enormous chips and the attendant massive power draws.
SeaMicro launched a few years back using Intel’s Atom processors. It has since been acquired by AMD, which is also eyeing the micro-server markets for its own architecture. Calxeda sells ARM chips to multiple vendors looking to make their own micro-servers, and an MIT startup called Tilera is also aiming for the micro-server CPU market.
The drawback for ARM is that the architecture is currently 32-bit, limiting its memory access to 4GB. After a little stalling, Intel decided to jump into the market with its “Centerton” SoCs for microservers, and later this year will introduce the “Avoton” chips. These are 64-bit chips tuned for micro-servers, but they don’t have any design wins yet.
The Calxeda EnergyCard comes with four processors per card, along with four memory slots and 16 SATA ports. A fully loaded Viridis server holds a dozen cards, for 48 processors total, with a max of 192GB of main memory and two dozen disks. Cost: about $50,000.
Fedora 18, the latest version of the open source operating system, includes several features specific to ARM’s architecture. This includes support for industry standards such as Pre-boot Execution Environment (PXE-boot) technology, which is used in automation efforts in data centers to make installing operating systems easier and quicker.
Boston is currently testing the servers with customers in the U.S. and Europe. It has not set a release date for the servers.
Image: Boston Ltd.