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Facebook server project receives ARM support

Posted: 18 Jan 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Open Compute Project? ARM SoCs? x86-based SoCs? X-Gene 64bit ARM server SoC?

A specification for a plug-in board that can accommodate a number of ARM- and x86-based SoCs has been recently announced by the Facebook-led Open Compute Project. Involved in the project are Applied Micro Circuits Corp and Calxeda, contributing board-level designs that meet the spec and use their ARM SoCs.

With the news, Facebook becomes the first major data centre to open the door to ARM SoCs in servers. An executive for the social networking giant told EE Times late last year that Facebook might find some low volume roles for 32bit ARM SoCs, but that it sees no widespread use of the architecture in host server processors until 64bit parts are available, probably in 2014 or beyond.

Separately, Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) announced it has financial services customers testing board designs it submitted to OCP last May. In addition, Mellanox is showing an integrated networking product for data centres at the Open Compute Summit here.

With OCP, Facebook is encouraging large and small data centres and their vendors to set common specs for servers and other data centre gear to lower costs. Facebook competitors such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft specify custom server boards and other data centre gear but don't openly share details of those designs.

Applied Micro announced it developed a board design that uses its X-Gene 64bit ARM server SoC and complies with the new OCP spec. The so-called Common Slot specification announced at the summit can accommodate all SoC architecture types.

disc drive array.

Figure 1: Calxeda will show this week a 32bit ARM SoC board that could be used as a storage controller for a disc drive array like this controller board in Facebook's Open Vault.

Applied said it is on track to sample silicon for X-Gene to key customers before the end of the quarter. "As the first to deliver silicon based on the ARM 64bit architecture, Applied Micro gives consumers an opportunity to evaluate the benefits of this compelling processor architecture," said Frank Frankovsky, chairman of the Open Compute Foundation and vice president of hardware design and supply chain at Facebook, in a prepared statement.

"An alternative processor architecture such as ARM, coupled with open source software, has the potential to radically increase the amount of compute power we can get from the energy we consume and the money we spend," Frankovsky said.

"An ARM 64bit server motherboard design has the potential to reach the data centre by the end of this year," Paramesh Gopi, president and CEO of Applied Micro, said in the statement.

Separately, Calxeda showed a Common Slot board at the summit using its 32bit ARM-based SoC. It also demoed Project Knockout, an ARM-based board that can be used as a controller for disc arrays in the OCP Open Vault storage spec. In addition, Calxeda partnered with Avnet Embedded to show other data centre designs it will release in the fall.

"Partners like Calxeda are critical to bringing creative new design options to the Open Compute Project community, and we applaud their technical contributions to the project," Frankovsky said in a Calxeda statement.

Calxeda is currently shipping a 32bit ARM server SoC. It has announced plans for a 64bit version that will ship in 2014.

AMD and Intel will also support the Common Slot spec with x86 server chips.


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