SeaMicro's 512-way Intel Atom supercomputer: small, cheap, green

By Richi Jennings. June 15, 2010.

A silly-valley startup has announced its highly-unusual, highly-parallel server. The SeaMicro SM10000 packs 512 Intel Atom CPUs into a 4U chassis. In IT Blogwatch, bloggers debate the pros and cons.

Your humble blogwatcher selected these bloggy morsels for your enjoyment. Not to mention rebranding...

    Dean Takahashi ventures forth:

SeaMicro ... is announcing today it has created a server with 512 Intel Atom chips that gets supercomputer performance but uses 75 percent less power. ... It could delight customers with big data centers that are consuming too much power and are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for free internet services.


SeaMicro guessed that servers could benefit instead by using lots of smaller processors, and it got lucky when Intel started promoting its low-power, low-cost Atom chip ... [which] deliver three times the performance per watt versus Intel’s server chips. ... SeaMicro also attacked the power consumption in the rest of the system, which accounts for about two thirds of the power consumed.

Brooke Crothers slathers the special sauce:

The company is backed by about $25 million in venture capital and a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. ... Three primary technology innovations define the system, according to SeaMicro:


A patented technique in CPU I/O (input/output) virtualization, which reduces non-CPU power draw by eliminating 90 percent of the components from the motherboard. ... A supercomputer-style interconnect fabric that can link 512 mini-motherboards ... provides 1.28 terabits per-second throughput, with security and redundancy. ... Dynamic Compute Allocation Technology (DCAT) combines CPU management and load balancing ... ensures that the active CPUs operate in the most energy-efficient utilization ranges.


The SeaMicro SM10000 will be generally available July 30. ... The list price for a base configuration is $139,000.

Kit Eaton compares and contrasts:

SeaMicro's approach is very different from the giant industrial-grade rack servers that companies like Intel and IBM churn out. ... These machines typically appear much like a desktop machine, with a big CPU on a motherboard, a host of ancillary chips and a bulky power supply.


Compared to a "normal" Dell server installation which would cost about the same in terms of initial hardware, SeaMicro's hardware can save you over a million dollars. ... And it's saving a lot of carbon footprint too, assuming that ... [you don't just] install servers that are four times more powerful but take up the same space.

Stacey Higginbotham talks density:

SeaMicro has recognized that performance isn’t what much of today’s computing tasks require. Jobs like serving up a web page or even grabbing a photo don’t need gigahertz, they just need to deliver results quickly ... without gulping power. ... SeaMicro designed a server with lower-power CPUs, a lot of memory and a specialty chip to handle the networking and communications among the thousands of cores.


[One] can fit on a credit card and eight of them fit on a single motherboard. That’s dense.

But James Hamilton offers "potential downsides of the SeaMicro approach":

The Intel Atom CPU is not quite as power efficient as some of the ARM-based solutions and it doesn’t currently support ECC memory. ... What SeaMicro has built is actually CPU independent and can integrate other CPUs as other choices become available. ... I really like what they have done.


Four of these modules will fit in an industry standard rack, consume a reasonable 8kW, and deliver more work done joule, work done per dollar, and more work done per rack than the more standard approaches currently on the market.

And robthebloke has more gotchas:

Things that suck about the atom: double precision ... division ... sqrt. ... All of those produce unacceptable stalls, and annihilate your performance immediately.


The biggest problem with them right now is that they are so different architecturally from any other x86/x64 CPU that all apps need to be re-compiled. ... Code optimised for a Core2 or i7 performs terribly on the atom.

And Finally...

How rebranding works

Don't miss out on IT Blogwatch:

Richi Jennings, your humble blogwatcher
  Richi Jennings is an independent analyst/consultant, specializing in blogging, email, and security. A cross-functional IT geek since 1985, you can follow him as @richi on Twitter, pretend to be richij's friend on Facebook, or just use good old email:

You can also read Richi's full profile and disclosure of his industry affiliations.

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