New ARM-Based Server From ZT Systems

ZT Systems has announced a new rackmount server based on low-power processors from ARM, whose chips power many leading mobile devices. When fully populated with an array of components the server has an impressively low power draw of less than 80 watts.

John Rath

November 19, 2010

3 Min Read
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Server vendor ZT Systems has announced a new server based on low-power processors from ARM, whose chips power many leading mobile devices. The new R1801e is a 1U rackmount server powered by up to 16 ARM Cortex-A9 processor cores. When fully populated with an array of components the server has an impressively low power draw of  less than 80 watts.

Interest in low-power processors has grown in recent years as data center operators struggle to manage rising power densities in their facilities, which often create cooling challenges and test the utility capacity. Much of the interest in ARM-based processors has focused on start-ups like Smooth-Stone ,which last week rebranded as Calxeda but has yet to launch a commercial product.

ZT Systems says its new product "demonstrates that low power ARM processors are ready for evaluation and software development work." ZT Systems specializes in custom servers for large customers, as reflected in its inclusion of pre-populated racks in its offerings. The company has historically worked with both Intel and AMD processors.

“This platform represents an attractive new option for certain applications in large data centers where power efficiency is a key priority,” said Casey Cerretani, ZT Systems Director of Engineering. “With our partners, ZT will continue to develop innovative products using ARM technology building blocks to provide our customers with precision-fit data center servers that are best in class in terms of power, performance and overall cost.”

Scalable and efficient
The less than  80 watt power draw is achieved even when the R1801e is fully populated with eight server modules, eight solid state drives, dual integrated Gigabit Ethernet switches and IPMI (Intelligent Platform Management Interface) server management. The R1801e comes in a standard 1u chassis, has an ATX power supply and SATA drive bank.

It features the STMicroelectronics SPEAr 1310 microprocessor with dual ARM Cortex-A9 processor cores.  Additionally ZT Systems worked with PHYTEC America to integrate the SPEAr 1310 onto a server "System-on-Module" (SoM), putting 1GB of DDR3 ECC DRAM, 1GB of NAND Flash, Ethernet PHY, and UART on each processor.  The IPMI then manages each SoM and the modules communicate via two embedded switches.

"This ZT Systems server is primed to lead a revolution in data-center servers over existing solutions," said Francesco Brianti, VP and SPEAr Business Unit Manager, STMicroelectronics. "The combination of ST's low-power process technology, computational power and DDR3 memory support delivers outstanding performance and miserly power consumption and makes SPEAr an emerging force as the CPU of choice for server and other applications."

Chip level efficiencies
ZT Systems worked with ARM to bring the benefits of the Cortex-A9 processors to the server market.  Energy efficiency at the chip level and management integration for gaining visibility into CPU's and clock speeds have been a big topic in recent years.  At the Data Center Efficiency Summit last month Dean Nelson from Data Center Pulse presented the early results of  testing that suggest that overclocking and underclocking processors as workloads fluctuate can reduce a server’s energy use by as much as 18 percent.  Other announcements from SeaMicro and Tilera have also focused on low-power multi-core  servers aimed at the data center market.

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