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HP eyes memristors as alternative to server CPUs

Posted: 03 Dec 2012 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:memristors? nanostores? Atom? Centerton processor? Project Moonshot?

HP Labs, the exploratory research group arm of Hewlett-Packard, continues to make advancements on its long term goal of smart memories based on its memristors as alternatives to server CPUs. The devices are one of several new types of chips which could take centre stage in the coming disruptive changes in data centre technologies and workloads, stated an HP Labs researcher.

Separately, Hewlett-Packard Co. is expected to announce within weeks the next steps in its Project Moonshot, its work on ARM- and Atom-based servers. HP is working with a broad group of companies including processor providers AMD, Applied Micro, Calxeda, Cavium and Intel on the project.

So far HP has announced an Atom-based server using Intel's Centerton processor. It suggested it would use cartridges to flexibly upgrade a single server chassis for a wide range of ARM- and Atom-based chips in 2013 and beyond.

Partha Ranganathan

On a three-to-five year horizon, HP Labs is working on what it calls "nanostores." The chips combine memristors and logic that could challenge microprocessors in a new era of designs based on novel system architectures and memory hierarchies, said Parthasarathy Ranganathan, an HP Labs researcher in a keynote at the Server Design Summit.

"We have the opportunity for new building block," said Ranganathan. "It's really a 3-D stack amenable to traditional workloads and even more so to new workloads, really changing the game with potentially a hundred-fold increase in performance per watt."

The Nanostore concept
HP Labs continues to conduct experiments on the nanostore concept with promising results. But Ranganathan declined to provide any specifics, noting the work is still as much as three years from commercial products.

Such devices could ride a confluence of multiple waves of change. "The technology changes and workloads inflections ahead are incredibly interesting for system design," he said.

In computing, he noted processors made a "sharp right turn" in about 2005 when performance gains for single core processors plateaued and multi-core architectures took off.

In storage, disc drive capacity has outpaced data access times. DRAM capacity growth has taken a "soft right turn" from traditional levels of 60 per cent a year to about 25 per cent a year, he noted.

The rise of server SoCs and eventually 3-D stacks along with flash memory in server designs could help breakthrough such bottlenecks. The changes come about the same time that networking is shifting more deeply from copper to optical links.

Separately, data growth is far outpacing Moore's Law, driving new workloads. The researcher noted a "growing complexity and dynamism of data access." Today's searches increasingly involve accessing multiple real-time and static databases as well as overlaid sources of personal and contextual information.

"Compared to a simple click, which once was just to a single Web server, we now have very sophisticated data analysis from multiple repositories with complex cross correlations," he said. "It's big data, but it's also fast data from multiple streams with deep analytics."

- Rick Merritt
??EE Times

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