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June 23, 2010

A Cloud Unhindered by x86 Architecture

Nicole Hemsoth

Designer of multicore and manycore processors, Tilera, announced today that it plans to double the number of cores on a chip and thus double the compute per rack every two years with a three-year projection landing them at 40,000 cores in 2013. As the company noted in its release, “Cloud computing is restricted by legacy x86 processors that consume a lot of power while providing minimal performance improvements across generations. Tilera, not restricted by legacy cores, is working in collaboration with top cloud vendors and providing the highest performance per-watt processors that dramatically reduce operating expenses for datacenters and cloud computing operators.”

In an interview this morning with HPC in the Cloud, Ihab Bishara, Director of Cloud Computing Products at Tilera stated, “We currently have a 64-core processor and will have a 100-core processor out next year.  The modular nature of our TILE architecture enables us to easily scale to higher and higher core count, unlike other processor vendors.  Because of this, we are planning a 200 core processor for 2013.  With eight of these in a server and 20 servers in a rack, that will enable 40,000 cores.”

Granted, while they don’t have x86 compatibility, if they are able to demonstrate solid power and performance this will certainly be attractive for many, especially as large-scale datacenters are having trouble fitting their current servers in at the rate they’d like to. Intel and AMD are making the same play, but they are certainly lagging behind Tilera’s much more aggressive manycore roadmap. It is worth noting as well that SeaMicro who emerged from the ether last week with its announcement of a low-power server sporting 512 Intel Atom cores is another player here, as are those working on ARM chips for similar types of servers. In the case of SeaMicro, however, while they are functioning on the same general idea, they will likely not have the same power-performance zing since they will be tied inextricably to the legacy x86 architecture.

Bishara offered some insight into the company’s plans to meet its projected goal as well as into their current cloud-optimized servers. As Bishara indicated, “X86 processor technologies are built to solve the problem of how to run a single threaded application, like Windows, using frequency and acceleration. Over the years, to accomplish that goal the cores grew to be very large and power hungry.  Tilera provides  very high performance, small and power efficient cores that fit well with parallel cloud type applications. “

The iMesh Architecture

Bishara described the iMesh architecture and what it brings to the goal of 40,000 cores by 2013 by stating, “Tilera’s architecture eliminates the dependence on a bus, and instead puts a non-blocking, cut-through switch on each processor core, which connects it to a two-dimensional on-chip mesh network called iMesh (Intelligent Mesh). The iMesh provides each tile with more than a terabit per second of interconnect bandwidth, creating a more efficient distributed architecture and eliminating any on-chip data congestion – a problem other processor companies have not tackled. In addition to having so much bandwidth for communication, the iMesh has specific networks to manage the coherency between the cores.”

Who’s on Board with Tilera?

It was clear that SGI has been toying with Tilera’s offerings for some time as a statement from Mark Barrenechea, CEO of SGI is included in the release. He stated that his company is “working with Tilera to bring this compelling technology to our customers across HPC, cloud, and government market segments,” and Bishara also noted there has been significant collaboration but was not willing to elaborate, although he did note that there will be some news coming in the near future from their partnership, especially where there are areas of overlapping benefit in finance as well as government and cloud more generally.

In Bishara’s words, “We are working with many names you would recognize, but beside SGI and Quanta Computer, we are not able to name any names at this time. In terms of OPEX, our new server enables companies to replace eight state-of-the art Intel Xeon 5500-based servers with one Tilera server – at the same performance and a fraction of the power. This is key for datacenters where they’ve maxed out the number of systems they can pack into a datacenter. So this system will enable 8X more performance in the same amount of space, or same performance at 6X the power reduction. This means a huge savings in both power consumption as well as real estate.”