As the amount of data continues to grow, it is becoming increasingly apparent that the traditional, compute-centric data center architecture may not be the best configuration for many computing applications—especially analytics. Traditional servers are very energy- and space-intensive, not to mention pricey. On top of that, the majority of the energy cost in a traditional server environment comes from moving data from point A to point B, rather than from processing the raw data into value-add information (i.e., analytics). What is needed in this era of analyzing “big data” is a trusted architecture that combines the data with the high-performance compute.
Creating compute-dense processing nodes or appliances that are hyper-efficient—with ultra-low power, small form factor and high performance compute nodes—are built by integrating a system-on-a-chip (SoC) processor with DRAM (Dynamic random-access memory), flash memory, and the power conversion logic using open standards interfaces and software. These appliances are emerging as a new option for more efficient data processing per dollar spent.
Each compute node in the appliance consists of a 12-core, 24-thread SoC, 48GB DRAM, 2 SATA*, 4 10Gb Ethernet, SD and USB2 interfaces—yet is only 139 mm wide by 55 mm high and uses an inexpensive DIMM (dual in-line memory module) connector. 128 of these nodes are provided within each appliance which consumes about 6 kW. It runs standard Fedora 20 Linux and the IBM DB2 database. IBM researcher Ronald Luijten calls their creation the “datacenter in a box.” Ronald and his co-authors, Dac Pham, Mihir Pandya, and Huy Nguyen, presented the results of this work to date at the2015 ISSCC conference.
*Exabyte: A unit of information equals one billion gigabytes.
*SATA: An integrated drive electronics (IDE) device, which means the controller is in the drive, and only a simple circuit is required on the motherboard.
In another example, System Fabric Works demonstrated another implementation at Super Computing 2013 using the exact same SoC, which they called the “strongest candidate for low power exascale*.” These two examples demonstrate that combining powerful, low-power compute with the integration of networking infrastructure on a single SoC can enable an appliance platform to scale efficiently to Exabyte levels of performance.
*Exascale: A computing system capable of a billion billion calculations per second.
What are some of the use cases that compute-dense appliances are uniquely suited for?
Low-power, compute-dense analytic appliances have not yet fully come into their own. Right now, it is common to rely on the established data center technology. As big data continues to grow, and the business value of getting to the answers quickly and efficiently becomes the demand, rather than paying for the movement of data, a paradigm shift will take place. As this shift occurs, high-performance multicore processors will be needed to help address many challenges to optimize the system architecture for their specific application requirements.
Projects like DOME, work being done with deployments in developing regions, and other uses will pave the way for a new generation of compute-dense appliances to meet our local, low power, higher efficiency compute needs.