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Facebook: ARM server SoCs still fall short

Posted: 22 Jan 2013 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Open Compute Summit? Facebook? server SoCs?

Right after opening its data center to ARM server SoCs at the Open Compute Summit, Facebook executives made it clear that current chips are still not completely satisfactory. The also reiterated the need for NAND flash vendors to re-shift their focus to fill exploding storage needs in the data center.

In keynotes and interviews at the Summit, Facebook managers said they wanted server SoCs that pack lots of cores and not much else. They also called for a spectrum of NAND flash products in between the extremes of today's consumer chips in USB drives and the premium products in solid-state drives. (see Facebook server project receives ARM support)

Facebook wants disaggregated servers, said Frank Frankovsky, the chairman of the Open Compute Foundation and vice president of hardware design and supply chain at the social networking giant. Such servers should accommodate upgraded CPUs when they arrive every year or so without needing to swap out memory, networking and I/O chips that might only change once every five years or so.

At least a half dozen companies are planning 64bit ARM server SoCs geared to save power for large data centres. But all those with existing chips and road maps are focused on highly integrated parts that build Ethernet, proprietary fabrics and other features Frankovsky doesn't want into the SoCs.

"I can't say anyone has come saying we will build it exactly the way you are asking for it," said Frankovsky in an interview with EE Times after his keynote. "When they hear this disaggregation message, they can start changing their direction," he said.

"Today is the first day that a lot of this has been discussed publically, so it may take time for SoC providers to think differently about how much they integrate and have different sets of options," he added.

He showed on stage a so-called Common Slot board based on a new Open Compute specification. It uses a x8 PCI Express connector to link any processor board into other server components. Intel x86 and Applied Micro ARM chips populated a board shown on stage

Facebook may deploy its first servers using such Common Slot boards before the end of the year, he said.

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