SeaMicro, the company building low-power specialty servers for web companies, has managed to increase the amount of computing power under its hood by 50 percent while decreasing the power consumption of its machines by a quarter in its third-generation product. The latest box comes a mere four months after the company has released its second-generation hardware with a specially designed Intel chip.
SeaMicro’s CEO Andrew Feldman was eager to discuss how the four-year-old startup manages to release a new product every few months, despite the accepted wisdom that says hardware design requires months and years of effort before new designs make it to the market. Feldman credits the startup’s ability to move quickly with the specialty chip inside SeaMicro’s box that controls how the servers talk to one another. Those specialty networking chips are CPU-agnostic, meaning they could work with any chip, be it an x86 chip from Intel or AMD or a specialty chip from a company such as Tilera. Even ARM-based CPUs could work inside a SeaMicro box.
The specialty silicon also enables the company to offer a 1.28 Terabit fabric inside the box to help the different CPUs communicate on the board and inside a box — which takes up to 10 rack units of space. This becomes significant as one realizes that the latest-generation box contains 768 cores as opposed to the previous two generations’ 512 cores.
For the business-minded folks out there, this approach to delivering new products quickly sets SeaMicro up for success as trends in software, data center design and customer demand shifts in faster and faster cycles. Companies such as Facebook, Twitter and Zynga are seeing demand for servers skyrocket and can’t afford to wait for the 12-18-month cycles of silicon and hardware refresh. Facebook has become so disillusioned with today’s server progress it has created the Open Compute effort to take design into its own hands.
Currently, SeaMicro is working closely with Intel to release its boxes at a faster pace, and Jason Waxman, the general manager of high-density computing at Intel, explains that while silicon development still moves at a relatively slower pace, there are things Intel can do to help partners push the hardware design cycle faster. For example, Intel worked with SeaMicro to create the 64-bit Atom chip SeaMicro introduced in its second-generation product.