The UDX1 – Penguin’s first ARM based Server

Last week we announced our first ARM based server. This week we showed a live demo of the system running Hadoop and Ganglia at Hadoopworld in New York. Our announcement generated a lot of attention from the press, analysts, potential customers and competitors.

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Why are so many people interested in this platform? The short answer is power and density. Traditionally ARM based processors have been used for mobile devices, where low power consumption is key. At the same time every data center has power and cooling constraints and more and more cloud and ‘Big Data’ applications require scale out architectures. Our partner Calxeda is one of the first organizations to bring low-power ARM technology to the data center. The UDX1 is based on Calxeda EnergyCore SoCs (System on Chip) and can be configured with up to 48 servers and 192 cores in a 2U (we chose a 4U chassis to accommodate a larger number of drives – up to 36 3.5’’ drives). The power consumption per server is around 7W including RAM but excluding HDDs. What makes this super low power envelope possible is Calxeda’s SoC architecture that integrates the entire system logic on a single die: ARM9 quad core processors including the Neon SIMD engine, dedicated logic for power management, L2 cache, BMC (accessible through SoL), PCI-E, SATA and memory controllers.

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Two issues that always pop-up in the context of ARM bases systems are the lack of 64-bit support with the inherent limitation of the addressable RAM to 4GB and the lack of applications and OSs’ that run on ARM. The first issue is being worked on. The next generation processor code named Midway slated for next year will support 40-bit memory addressing and a 64-bit architecture built on the ARM V8 architecture is scheduled for 2014. The second issue matters for applications that cannot be recompiled on the platform or for customers that need to run enterprise distributions. As far as the enterprise distribution is concerned, there is an effort to build a RHEL based distribution for ARM. If applications cannot be recompiled emulators that facilitate the execution of x86 code through on-the-fly binary translation (and retrieval of already translated code from a cache) could be of interest. While certainly not as fast as native execution this type of technology could help with the transition to ARM. Also interesting … at the time of writing it looks like AMD is very likely to announce an 64-bit ARM based micro server based on the Seamicro platform acquired in March.

Even if the UDX1 may not be the perfect fit for your current workload it makes sense to deploy a UDX1 to port your applications to be ready when the more powerful platform hits the market.

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