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September 14, 2012

AMD Seamicro Push New Approach to Big Data

Ian Armas Foster

When AMD bought SeaMicro back in February, they saw “a new server building block” which they could incorporate into an energy efficient, cloud-based server. It appears AMD’s acquisition has paid off, as AMD announced the release of SM15000, a new high-density microserver that caters toward big data and cloud computing.

The lynchpin of SM15000’s architecture, the details of which are laid out in this HPCWire piece, is what AMD is calling Freedom Fabric. According to AMD’s GM of Data Center Server Solutions and former SeaMicro CEO Andrew Feldman, this Freedom Fabric “enables a single 10 rack unit system to support more than five petabytes of low-cost, easy-to-install storage… ideal for big data applications like Apache Hadoop and Cassandra for public and private cloud deployments.”

The fabric acts as, well, a cloth that is interwoven through the server. As it weaves, it tightly couples nodes and decreases latency. The result is that computations are accelerated. Yesterday, Datanami explored how EMC wishes to bridge the gap between big data and fast data. The Freedom Fabric could be looking to build that bridge. The fabric essentially spreads out and reaches all CPUs in the system, per SeaMicro, allowing for the first time for the server to extend beyond its hardware.

According to a few analysts, the resulting SeaMicro 15000 could already lead the storage industry. Writes Gil Russell, “Unlike the industry standard model, where disk storage is located remote from processing nodes, SeaMicro has worked out a networking switched fabric that connects servers to the ‘in rack’ disk drives and is extensible beyond the SM15000 rack frame allowing construction of cumulatively very large systems.”

Part of what drives that lead is its energy efficiency. According to SeaMicro, they can store up to five petabytes in just two racks, one for the SM 15000 itself and the other for the 16 “Freedom Fabric Storage Enclosures.” The closest competitor needs six racks and twice the power (40 Kilowatts vs. 20 Kilowatts) to store five petabytes.

However, more important is the ability to network with other systems. Hypothetically, one could extend the Fabric of several SM15000s to create a fairly sizable cluster for relatively cheap.

Interestingly, as part of the announcement, AMD claims that the server is the “most efficient Intel Xeon/Sandy Bridge server ever built.” AMD and Intel have been fierce competitors for quite some time. And yet, here AMD is announcing improvements for, not to, Intel technology. Perhaps this is an effort to piggyback onto a portion of Intel’s share.

But perhaps the motivations are less sinister and more SeaMicro-driven. Russell noted that SeaMicro aims to become an industry standard versus a feeder to a single feeder. According to him, SeaMicro is well on its way to becoming an industry standard, with discussions are already underway with HP and Dell to accomplish just that.

“AMD SeaMicro,” Russell wrote “is the only single socket server supporting 64 GB of onboard DRAM…In fact, it appears that SeaMicro is better at designing single board servers than is Intel.”

Feldman is understandably optimistic about SeaMicro’s future, a company that just became a centerpiece for AMD’s big data plans moving forward. But it appears SeaMicro’s aspirations may lie even higher. “AMD’s SeaMicro SM15000 server enables companies,” said Feldman, “for the first time, to share massive amounts of storage across hundreds of efficient computing nodes in an exceptionally dense form factor. We believe that this will transform the data center compute and storage landscape.”

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