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SeaMicro Upgrades Atom Server to 64-Bit Architecture

Intel Builds New-Generation Chip for Small Start-Up

It's not every little start-up that can say that Intel built it its own personal processor but that's what SeaMicro says happened when it needed a 64-bit Atom chip for its newfangled Atom-based servers.

SeaMicro CEO Andrew Feldman claims the 75-man company saw pretty enthusiastic adoption - it was "flooded with orders," as he described it, for its first-generation 32-bit machine - enough for supply to have run short because the outfit hadn't ordered enough of its proprietary ASICs, which had an 18-week lead time.

 But there were potential customers that told the start-up to come back when it had a 64-bit machine. They couldn't fit their data in 2GB of OS addressable memory and didn't want to screw around recompiling their software to 32-bits.

So SeaMicro importuned Intel for the dingus and Intel built the low-power N570 dual-core processor for SeaMicro's dense new SM10000-64 system, advertised as the world's most energy efficient 64-bit x86 server, meant to underpin the modern data center and the ever-expanding cloud. It is the first Atom chip to support virtualization.

Intel didn't even demand a huge order, suggesting that the semiconductor giant is more scared of ARM and its server aspirations than it lets on.

Armed with the dual-core 1.66GHz Atom, SeaMicro stuffed 256 of the doohickeys - 512 64-bit cores and 850GHz - into a 17.5-inch 10 rack unit-high system.

Besides putting a rack full of functionality in a 10U, it can put 2,048 cores into a seven-foot rack along with 1.024 terabytes of DDR3 DRAM, up to 64 SATA solid-state or hard disk drives and eight-64 one gigabit Ethernet uplinks.

It reduces power and space by 75%, cutting opex costs that really pinch. Google's famous for complaining that servers cost more to power than to buy. The SeaMicro box is supposed to trash Amazon's cloud pricing.

SeaMicro brags that the box delivers more compute per unit power and more compute per unit space than any x86 system ever built. It's also supposed to be the industry leader in bandwidth per unit compute.

It eliminates layers of Ethernet switches, server management devices and expensive load balancers.

SeaMicro says its 1.28 terabit/second supercomputer-style fabric lets the SM10000-64 deliver five times more bandwidth per unit compute than traditional servers. That means that applications such as Hadoop that need extensive server-to-server communication can run more quickly by keeping network bottlenecks from inhibiting application performance.

Aside from the obvious off-the-shelf 64-bit operating systems support and x86 software compatibility - no modifications needed - the Intel chip can handle four gigabytes of operating system addressable memory per socket and four threads. On a SeaMicro motherboard - which is smaller than piece of copy paper - the N570 costs less than a watt for each gigahertz of compute at peak utilization with the company's brand of power management.

A base configuration runs $148,000.

SeaMicro says the thing is already in production at sites it's not allowed to divulge. It means to keep offering the 32-bit model, which is used by Mozilla, Skype, French Telecom, Rogers Communications and China Netcom Broadband. Japan is still locked into 32-bit. Anyway the CPUs can be swapped out.

Neither kit is any good at database, or CAD-CAM or supercomputer-y stuff but they are good at the web tier and with the LAMP stack.

They are supposed to make a big 3x leap in utilization, translating into $16 million in savings over three years, the company says, compared to a comparable Xeon setup.

Feldman expects SeaMicro to be profitable in the second half of next year.

There's a provocative empty space in the middle of the company's new motherboard for coming attractions in density.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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