Penguin Joins Microserver ARMs Race

By Michael Feldman

October 18, 2012

Penguin Computing has launched its first ARM-based server platform. Known as the UDX1, the Penguin box is based on Calxeda’s latest ARM server chip, and is aimed at cloud computing, Web hosting, and, especially, data analytics – UD stands for Ultimate Data. The move puts Penguin into the front ranks of computer makers who are testing the waters for the burgeoning microserver market.

Although Penguin is best known for its HPC cluster offerings, it also sells into the enterprise space, from which it currently collects half its revenue. With established customers like Digg and Yelp, the company is looking to expand its footprint even further in the commercial arena. One of the ways it intends to do that is via the “big data” market, an application domain that spans genomic sequencing, risk analysis for stock portfolios, retail analytics and everything in between. Conveniently that encompasses the company’s HPC and enterprise customer bases.


The idea behind the UDX1 is to offer a less costly and more energy-efficient platform for these data-intensive applications. In general, x86 Xeon and Opteron servers offer more computational power than needed for applications that tend to be I/O bound. Therefore, rejiggering the compute-I/O balance by cutting back on thread/core performance can, at least in theory, offer a much more efficient solution.

That’s the premise of the microserver architecture, which uses less performant, but much lower power processors, such as ARM SoCs and low-power Intel Xeons and Atoms, to drive these throughput applications. In Penguin’s case, the UDX1 uses Calxeda’s latest EnergyCore ECX-1000 ARM server SoC, a quad-core chip that tops out at 5 watts. Each 4U enclosure houses up to 12 Calxeda modules, each holding four of those SoCs.

Note that the current crop of Calxeda server chips are based on 32-bit ARM, so there is that annoying limitation of a 4 GB memory reach. But for Hadoop-type workloads that can slice up datasets into bite-sized chunks, and scale out appropriately, this is a manageable problem.

Since each ARM chip comprises a complete server node, the UDX1 chassis offers 48 servers, in aggregate, (so 192 cores). Each node can hook into 4GB of DRAM and 36 1GB storage drives. Network switching is provided in the form of an on-chip network fabric supporting 10GbE connectivity between nodes, obviating the need for an external switch. In addition to on-chip Ethernet, the SoC includes integrated controllers for memory, PCIe, and SATA drives, as well as system management logic.

Since each of the servers runs 5 watts at full load, the whole chassis draws only 240 watts. Not bad for 192 cores. Obviously these are not Xeon cores; the ECX-1000 chip tops out at 1.4 GHz, which is less than half the speed of a top-end x86 server CPU. But in its intended space of divide-and-conquer-computing, there are a lot less wasted cycles waiting for I/O to catch up. At just a little over a watt per thread, energy-efficiency is an order of magnitude better than conventional server platforms.

According to Arend Dittmer, Penguin’s director of product marketing, a fully-populated UXD1 chassis will run about $30-35K. He says they already have a trio of orders for the new platform: one from a financial services firm, and the other two from national labs – all for data analytics work. At this point, the systems are being targeted for experimentation, rather than production, as customers kick the tires to see how well the Penguin box works under their analytics loads.

While the volume market for such microservers is going to be in the commercial space, Dittmer sees such systems filling a comfortable niche in HPC shops. He says, for mainstream science computation, where FLOPS are king, this is not the right platform (and doesn’t try to be). But since there is a finite amount of power and real estate in a datacenter, it makes sense to offload the data analytics work of science to more efficient hardware like the UXD1.

Penguin is not the only server maker utilizing Calxeda silicon. UK-based Boston Limited offers a very similar system to the UXD1, which they call Viridis. The Boston box is a 2U chassis that houses up to 48 Calxeda nodes and is aimed at essentially the same application space that Penguin is targeting. According to David Power, Boston’s Head of HPC, they have a 36-bay, 4U platform in the works, based on the same Calxeda SoCs.

Both vendors are already looking ahead to Calxeda’s plans for its 64-bit ARM SoC, which the company has code-named “Lago.” No one has committed to a date, but it’s reasonable to think that these chips should start to appear in the 2014 timeframe, with server implementations to follow shortly thereafter.

By that time, Penguin and Boston should have plenty of company. HP has been flirting with Calxeda for some time with its Project Moonshot development platform, but opted to go with Intel Atom CPUs for its initial microserver line. Dell has been dipping its toes into the microserver space as well, but gave the nod to Marvell’s quad-core Armada XP 78460 chip. IBM has yet to choose sides, but if these initial microserver platforms start to gain traction, you can bet Big Blue will figure out a way to get into the game.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visitors to the Colorado Convention Center in Denver for the larg Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some cases, city managers didn’t even know existed. Speaking Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Harness Scalable Petabyte Storage with HPE Apollo 4510 and HPE StoreEver

As a growing number of connected devices challenges IT departments to rapidly collect, manage, and store troves of data, organizations must adopt a new generation of IT to help them operate quickly and intelligently. Read more…

SC17 Student Cluster Competition Configurations: Fewer Nodes, Way More Accelerators

November 16, 2017

The final configurations for each of the SC17 “Donnybrook in Denver” Student Cluster Competition have been released. Fortunately, each team received their equipment shipments on time and undamaged, so the teams are r Read more…

By Dan Olds

SC Bids Farewell to Denver, Heads to Dallas for 30th

November 17, 2017

After a jam-packed four-day expo and intensive six-day technical program, SC17 has wrapped up another successful event that brought together nearly 13,000 visit Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SC17 Keynote – HPC Powers SKA Efforts to Peer Deep into the Cosmos

November 17, 2017

This week’s SC17 keynote – Life, the Universe and Computing: The Story of the SKA Telescope – was a powerful pitch for the potential of Big Science projects that also showcased the foundational role of high performance computing in modern science. It was also visually stunning. Read more…

By John Russell

How Cities Use HPC at the Edge to Get Smarter

November 17, 2017

Cities are sensoring up, collecting vast troves of data that they’re running through predictive models and using the insights to solve problems that, in some Read more…

By Doug Black

Student Cluster LINPACK Record Shattered! More LINs Packed Than Ever before!

November 16, 2017

Nanyang Technological University, the pride of Singapore, utterly destroyed the Student Cluster Competition LINPACK record by posting a score of 51.77 TFlop/s a Read more…

By Dan Olds

Hyperion Market Update: ‘Decent’ Growth Led by HPE; AI Transparency a Risk Issue

November 15, 2017

The HPC market update from Hyperion Research (formerly IDC) at the annual SC conference is a business and social “must,” and this year’s presentation at S Read more…

By Doug Black

Nvidia Focuses Its Cloud Containers on HPC Applications

November 14, 2017

Having migrated its top-of-the-line datacenter GPU to the largest cloud vendors, Nvidia is touting its Volta architecture for a range of scientific computing ta Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Launches ARM-based Apollo System for HPC, AI

November 14, 2017

HPE doubled down on its memory-driven computing vision while expanding its processor portfolio with the announcement yesterday of the company’s first ARM-base Read more…

By Doug Black

OpenACC Shines in Global Climate/Weather Codes

November 14, 2017

OpenACC, the directive-based parallel programming model used mostly for porting codes to GPUs for use on heterogeneous systems, came to SC17 touting impressive Read more…

By John Russell

US Coalesces Plans for First Exascale Supercomputer: Aurora in 2021

September 27, 2017

At the Advanced Scientific Computing Advisory Committee (ASCAC) meeting, in Arlington, Va., yesterday (Sept. 26), it was revealed that the "Aurora" supercompute Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

NERSC Scales Scientific Deep Learning to 15 Petaflops

August 28, 2017

A collaborative effort between Intel, NERSC and Stanford has delivered the first 15-petaflops deep learning software running on HPC platforms and is, according Read more…

By Rob Farber

Oracle Layoffs Reportedly Hit SPARC and Solaris Hard

September 7, 2017

Oracle’s latest layoffs have many wondering if this is the end of the line for the SPARC processor and Solaris OS development. As reported by multiple sources Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Releases Deeplearn.js to Further Democratize Machine Learning

August 17, 2017

Spreading the use of machine learning tools is one of the goals of Google’s PAIR (People + AI Research) initiative, which was introduced in early July. Last w Read more…

By John Russell

GlobalFoundries Puts Wind in AMD’s Sails with 12nm FinFET

September 24, 2017

From its annual tech conference last week (Sept. 20), where GlobalFoundries welcomed more than 600 semiconductor professionals (reaching the Santa Clara venue Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Amazon Debuts New AMD-based GPU Instances for Graphics Acceleration

September 12, 2017

Last week Amazon Web Services (AWS) streaming service, AppStream 2.0, introduced a new GPU instance called Graphics Design intended to accelerate graphics. The Read more…

By John Russell

EU Funds 20 Million Euro ARM+FPGA Exascale Project

September 7, 2017

At the Barcelona Supercomputer Centre on Wednesday (Sept. 6), 16 partners gathered to launch the EuroEXA project, which invests €20 million over three-and-a-half years into exascale-focused research and development. Led by the Horizon 2020 program, EuroEXA picks up the banner of a triad of partner projects — ExaNeSt, EcoScale and ExaNoDe — building on their work... Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Delays, Smoke, Records & Markets – A Candid Conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro

October 5, 2017

Earlier this month, Tom Tabor, publisher of HPCwire and I had a very personal conversation with Cray CEO Peter Ungaro. Cray has been on something of a Cinderell Read more…

By Tiffany Trader & Tom Tabor

Cray Moves to Acquire the Seagate ClusterStor Line

July 28, 2017

This week Cray announced that it is picking up Seagate's ClusterStor HPC storage array business for an undisclosed sum. "In short we're effectively transitioning the bulk of the ClusterStor product line to Cray," said CEO Peter Ungaro. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Intel Launches Software Tools to Ease FPGA Programming

September 5, 2017

Field Programmable Gate Arrays (FPGAs) have a reputation for being difficult to program, requiring expertise in specialty languages, like Verilog or VHDL. Easin Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

HPC Chips – A Veritable Smorgasbord?

October 10, 2017

For the first time since AMD's ill-fated launch of Bulldozer the answer to the question, 'Which CPU will be in my next HPC system?' doesn't have to be 'Whichever variety of Intel Xeon E5 they are selling when we procure'. Read more…

By Dairsie Latimer

IBM Advances Web-based Quantum Programming

September 5, 2017

IBM Research is pairing its Jupyter-based Data Science Experience notebook environment with its cloud-based quantum computer, IBM Q, in hopes of encouraging a new class of entrepreneurial user to solve intractable problems that even exceed the capabilities of the best AI systems. Read more…

By Alex Woodie

AMD Showcases Growing Portfolio of EPYC and Radeon-based Systems at SC17

November 13, 2017

AMD’s charge back into HPC and the datacenter is on full display at SC17. Having launched the EPYC processor line in June along with its MI25 GPU the focus he Read more…

By John Russell

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This