Cavium, a company more familiar in the networking market, has branched into servers with a new family of chips made using the ARM architecture that is currently inside almost all cell phones and making moves into the data center. The chip maker is introducing a family of chips called ThunderX that will begin manufacturing and being sampled by customers in the fourth quarter of this year.
This product family is based on custom processor cores designed by Cavium in the 28nm process technology under an architectural license from ARM. That’s pretty far down the process node for an ARM-based server chip, making it highly dense and energy efficient. It’s also compliant with ARM’s Server Base System Architecture (SBSA) standard which is an attempt to unify the ARM-based chips from different vendors so software built for a Cavium ARM processor will also run on an ARM chip from AMD or Applied Micro.
This is an issue that companies buying servers containing x86 chips didn’t have to worry as much about, given that there were only two vendors. With the ARM model of licensing cores to a variety of chipmakers, it’s conceivable that a company might buy a variety of servers running different versions of the ARM core. As for Cavium, it is offering four different versions of the ThunderX chips for different markets: secure servers, networking, storage and traditional computing.
For those eager to compare specs, the ThunderX system on a chip can scale up to 48 cores with up to 2.5 GHz core frequency and will be fully cache coherent across dual sockets that’s to a Cavium-designed interconnect. The SoC comes with integrate I/O that can offer 100s of gigabits of I/O bandwidth and can support up to 1TB of memory in a dual socket configuration. In short, these processors are aiming to deliver enough computing, memory and I/O on chip and between chips to meet the needs of the scaled out data center where the goal is to pool resources as opposed to manage them discretely.
I think, given the demos I’ve seen of an Applied Micro-built SoC using the ARM architecture running Red Hat’s Linux a few weeks ago and other announcement’s like Cavium’s from ARM and Applied Micro that this year we’ll see more customers kicking the tires on ARM-based processors for computing tasks. And perhaps next year, we’ll even load a few web services that happen to be running on ARM-based processors.
For more on the future of chips in the data center, and how Intel, the current king of the data center chip business, plans to counter ARM’s encroachment come see Intel’s Diane Bryant at Gigaom’s Structure conference June 18 and 19 in San Francisco.