Tilera, Quanta Bank on Low-Power, High-Density Web Servers

by Andy Patrizio

The MIT-generated semiconductor startup finally has a partner and a position in the marketplace, one that sounds rather familiar.

Just when SeaMicro thought it had the market for low-power, high-density Web servers all to itself, Tilera has announced that it's pursuing the same market with its 64-core TILEPro64 processor.

Tilera, a startup created by former MIT professors, has been operating in stealth mode for three years since its debut at the Hot Chips conference in 2007, but now it's coming to market with its first OEM partner.

That partner is Quanta Computer, an original design manufacturer (ODM) that builds equipment for other vendors who then put their own name on it. The Quanta S2Q server is targeted specifically to tackle cloud computing workloads in collaboration with cloud data center providers, customers and software partners. The S2Q server is targeted at large-scale datacenters running high performance Web, database, hosting and finance applications, according to Troy Bailey, vice president of marketing for Tilera.

This is essentially the market SeaMicro is targeting with its Atom-powered server. While SeaMicro has very small boards that can hold eight Atom chips, Tilera has a CPU the size of a Xeon with 64 cores, allowing for even greater density. The Quanta 2u server can hold eight CPUs, putting 512 processing cores onto a single rack.

This is done through Tilera's iMesh communications fabric technology, a high-speed link for the cores that enables a high degree of parallel processing. The S2Q server can run up to 1.3 trillion operations per second. iMesh also handles the I/O, PCI Express connectivity and memory controllers.

"Essentially, what SeaMicro integrated onto a board, we integrated onto a chip," Bailey told InternetNews.com.

Each 2u server consumes 35 to 50 watts of energy at the most, and uses shared fans and power supplies to reduce space and power costs. A full rack consumes a total of eight kilowatts of power and delivers the same performance in Web serving as 100 two-socket Xeon-based systems, but with an 80 percent reduction in operating expenses.

Bailey said that in terms of raw performance, the TILEPro64 compares to an ARM Coretex-A9 or Atom processor. He echoed the sentiment of SeaMicro that a Xeon is too much power for serving up PHP pages.

"Many of the tasks in cloud, like looking at a database for a piece of data or serving up some text and images, can be done on a much smaller core than an x86. An x86 for Web serving is overkill. The x86 architecture evolved over the last 20 years to do very large tasks, and there is need for that. But much of what goes on in [the] cloud doesn't need that large core, although you're still burning up processing time on it," he said.

The one thing Tilera doesn't have on SeaMicro is x86 binary compatibility. Whereas SeaMicro touted the fact that the LAMP stack would run on its architecture with no need to change or recompile the code, Tilera hardware will require a recompile.

Quanta isn't Tilera's first win, though. Earlier this month, SGI announced plans to introduce a single supercomputer cabinet capable of a petaflop of performance, and that would be achieved through a hybrid system of x86 and Tilera processors.

Quanta, though, is the first to offer a dedicated Tilera processor server. All told, Bailey said that Tilera has close to 50 design wins to date.

Tilera also has new designs in the works, which include a 36-core processor slated for later this year, a 100-core processor next year and a 200-core chip for 2013.

"Our roadmap gets us back onto a Moore's Law pace," Bailey said. "We can double the number of cores every 18 months. Our architecture is nearly linearly scalable with the lean cores and integration."

The S2Q will be available on a limited basis in September and generally available in the fourth quarter. Pricing will be disclosed when it ships.

Andy Patrizio is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.

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This article was originally published on Thursday Jun 24th 2010
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