Calxeda Unveils Low-Power Servers, Deal With HP

Calxeda has unveiled low-power server technology adapted from cell phones that will serve as the cornerstone of a new line of servers for HP. Calxeda's EnergyCore is based on ARM chips and consumes about 5 watts of power, which could allow data center operators to dramatically slash their power usage for some applications.

Rich Miller

November 1, 2011

4 Min Read
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The EnergyCard, a four-node configuration of the Calxeda EnergyCore server which was announced today.

After months of anticipation, Calxeda today unveiled low-power server technology adapted from cell phones that will serve as the cornerstone of a new line of servers for HP.

Calxeda's EnergyCore is based on processor technology from ARM and consumes about 5 watts of power - and as little as 1.5 watts in microserver configurations - which could allow data center operators to dramatically slash their power usage for some applications.

Calxeda, a startup based in Austin, is among a group of next-generation server and chip makers hope to win business from cloud computing providers by slashing their energy bills. Calxeda, along with rivals SeaMicro and Tilera, use an approach that harnesses thousands of low-power cores that work together on computing tasks. Claxeda has gained attention for its focus on ARM chips, which are  used in many mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad.

"A New Breed of Server"

Calxeda's approach, which it calls a Server-on-a-Chip (SoC), combines a low-power processor, a network fabric and management software. The integrated fabric switch on every chip lowers cost of interconnecting thousands of servers, while an embedded management engine optimizes power management.The company says this holistic approach has created a "completely new breed of server" that captures efficiencies at multiple levels of the data center energy challenge.

"We believe a new era of energy-efficient servers is now dawning for scale-out workloads, and today, we are introducing the foundational architecture that will enable this breakthrough," said Barry Evans, CEO and co-founder of Calxeda. "While we are proud to launch our Calxeda EnergyCore processors, we are even more thrilled with the many partners who are joining us on this journey."

Chief among them is HP, one of the world's largest server vendors, which is using Calxeda's technology in its new Redstone server platform, the first phase of a broader focus on low-power server architecture known as Project Moonshot. The HP-designed system contains 288 Calxeda servers in a single 7-inch (4Rack Unit) chassis.

"A single rack of HP’s Calxeda servers delivers the throughput of some 700 traditional servers, and dramatically simplifies the the infrastructure needed to hook them all together and manage the cluster," Evans said.

Switch Fabric a Key Component

The EnergyCore processor SoC includes ans 80-Gigabit fabric switch, and an integrated management engine with power optimization software on a single piece of silicon. The EnergyCore SoC design will enable Calxeda's system vendor customers,to offer a complete server node that consumes only 5 watts, including 4GB of ECC memory and a large capacity SSD. Calxeda said two-node microserver configurations had used as little as 1.5 watts of power in internal testing.

Calxeda said its EnergyCore fabric could offer cost savings opportunities by streamlining network architectures. The company said its fabric acts as a distributed 2-layer switch, which could eliminate the need for top-of-rack switch ports and cabling.

Calxeda's ARM-based chips are 32-bit, but ARM says it will adopt 64-bit capabilities in future products.

Calxeda says it is not trying to compete with x86 servers from Intel and AMD on a per-thread performance basis, instead focusing on helping workloads "scale out" to use parallel processing across many cores to deliver massive throughput. The company says its performance models indicate that its 1.1GHz product will provide 25 to 50 percent of the processing power of a 2.4GHz x86 4-core processor.

Ideal for Analytics, Web Serving

As a result, Calxeda technology is not suited for every application. EnergyCore chips are ideal for workloads such as web serving, Big Data applications, scalable analytics such as Apache Hadoop, media streaming, and mid-tier infrastructure such as caching and in-memory scalable databases. One of Calxeda's early customers is the financial services firm Cantor Fitzgerald.

"We are evaluating the Calxeda technology in hyperscale throughput computing for data and simulation intensive applications," said Niall Dalton, Director of High Frequency Trading at Cantor Fitzgerald. "The Calxeda Linux platform enables rapid porting of our software, enabling us to quickly leverage the energy-efficient ARM cores and Calxeda's scalable communications fabric to scale our applications to new heights. Many companies in our industry are constrained by space and power, yet our appetite for analysis is insatiable. "We need a 10X breakthrough, and this could be it."

Earlier this year Calxeda announced its Trailblazer Initiative to create an ecosystem of partners to develop solutions for its server technology. Chief among them was Canonical, developer of the Ubuntu Linux distribution.

"The fundamental constraint in the world of massively parallel approaches to data management and analytics is power," said Mark Shuttleworth, sponsor of the Ubuntu operation system, and founder of Canonical. "Today marks the beginning of a new way of thinking about what is possible in data and analytics. What is happening here at Calxeda and HP is the beginning of that revolution in the data center."

“All the stars are in alignment: web 2.0 data-driven businesses, cloud computing, open source portable software, power consumption at crisis levels, and the emergence of server-class performance of ARM processors, ” said Evans.

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