Cavium Unveils ThunderX2 Plans, Reports ARM Traction is Growing

By John Russell

May 31, 2016

Cavium yesterday rolled out plans for ThunderX2, the next generation of its ThunderX line of ARM system-on-a-chip (SOC) processors. Given all of the recent noise around Intel’s Broadwell and Knights Landing chips, the announcement is a reminder that the ARM camp continues to make what it believes is steady progress into the x86-dominated landscape. Cavium made the announcement at Computex being held this week in Taipei.

Besides detailing plans for the new chip – based on the latest ARMv8-A architecture, built on a 14nm FinFET process, featuring up to 54 cores and significantly expanded memory and IO capability – Cavium took pains to review ecosystem growth and market traction around the original ThunderX offering. One reason for this is the relative reluctance of OEM and ODM to talk publically about their ARM efforts.

“No one wants to annoy the 800-pound gorilla. Neither do we,” said Gopal Hegde, VP/GM, Data Center Processor Group, Cavium. He is referring, of course, to Intel which dominates the server landscape with its x86 lineup.

Nevertheless, the burgeoning capabilities of the ThunderX line and potential cost savings will pit Cavium – the rest of the ARM camp – against Intel in many use cases situations. HPC is one of Cavium’s targets and it says CFD codes, for example, will run better on ThunderX2. While the announcement was more ostensibly aimed at the enterprise datacenter and cloud, the HPC ambitions were also clear – the new beefier core could find a home in many HPC workflows.

Availability of ThunderX2 is still far off, scheduled for Q1 or Q2 2017. That said, the new SOC is a significant upgrade that will provide 2x-3x performance improvement over ThunderX and enhanced power management features, according to Cavium. A snapshot of TunderX2’s major features is shown on the slide here. Among the many additions are full support for out of order execution (OOO) per socket and doubling of cache size (see slide below).

ThunderX2 Feature

 

Generally speaking, Cavium chips aren’t intended to compete with Intel’s latest and greatest, emphasized Hegde. Cavium rounded up statements of support from many key constituents in the ARM community to accompany the announcement. Two examples:

  • ARM Ltd. “The Cavium ThunderX2 will expand the market opportunity for ARM-based server technologies by addressing demanding application and workload requirements for compute, storage networking and security. ThunderX2 demonstrates Cavium’s ability to deliver a combination of innovation and engineering execution and the new product family increases the momentum for server deployments powered by ARM processors in large scale data centers and end user environments,” said Simon Segars, CEO, ARM
  • Gigabyte (mother boards). “Gigabyte has developed and is already shipping a range of Cavium ThunderX based server products to customers in US, Europe and Asia. We are seeing strong demand for these ARM-based platforms – especially from cloud service providers. The ThunderX2 represents a leap ahead in terms of overall performance and connectivity,” said Alex Liu, Head of Product Marketing, GIGABYTE.

Other testimonials were provided, notably from by AMI, Cannonical (ubuntu), E4, FreeBSD, Linaro, Red Hat, and Suse. No doubt this is just typical marketing practice but given the number, it has the feel of a deliberate show of strength for ARM in the server space. Full comments from all are available in the release.

“We think the ecosystem is already well developed,” said Hegde. Indeed, most of the needed pieces are in place and with the availability of silicon from a growing number of sources, not just Cavium, it will be interesting to see how the market develops.

ThunderX Market Traction

 

Many prominent OEMs, says Hegde, are flying under the radar in terms of working with ARM but are nevertheless working with customers on ARM projects. He cites, for example, Cray as one with an ARM development platform it provided to customers. Steady improvement in 64-bit ARM offerings, he says, are changing attitudes, a point echoed by Simon Segars, CEO, ARM.

“The Cavium ThunderX2 will expand the market opportunity for ARM-based server technologies by addressing demanding application and workload requirements for compute, storage networking and security,” said Segars. “ThunderX2 demonstrates Cavium’s ability to deliver a combination of innovation and engineering execution and the new product family increases the momentum for server deployments powered by ARM processors in large scale data centers and end user environments.”

Cavium is taking advantage of the shrinking feature (from 28 nm to 14 nm) to improve power consumption and power management capabilities which it says will yield a 30 percent power savings compared to the first generation ThunderX. One new element is support for dynamic voltage frequency scaling (DVFS) and increased granularity in other power management controls.

The plan now is to offer TunderX2 in four distinct flavors:

  • Compute (ThunderX2_CP): Optimized for cloud compute workloads such as private and public clouds, web serving, web caching, web search, commercial HPC workloads such as computational fluid dynamics (CFD) and reservoir modeling. This family supports multiple 10/25/40/50/100 GbE network Interfaces and PCIe Gen3 interfaces. It also includes accelerators for virtualization and vSwitch offload.
  • Storage (ThunderX2_ST): Optimized for big data, cloud storage, massively parallel processing (MPP) databases and data warehousing workloads. This family supports multiple 10/25/40/50/100 GbE network interfaces, PCIe Gen3 interfaces and SATAv3 interfaces. It also includes hardware accelerators for data protection/ integrity/security, user to user efficient data movement.
  • Security (ThunderX2_SC): Optimized for secure web front-end, security appliances and cloud RAN type workloads. This family supports multiple 10/25/40/50/100 GbE interfaces and PCIe Gen3 interfaces. Integrated hardware accelerators include Cavium’s industry leading, 5th generation NITROX security technology with acceleration for IPSec, RSA and SSL.
  • Networking (ThunderX2_NT): Optimized for media servers, scale-out embedded applications and NFV type workloads. This family supports multiple 10/25/40/50/100 GbE interfaces. It also includes OCTEON style hardware accelerators for packet parsing, shaping, lookup, QoS and forwarding.

As noted, Cavium tends to avoid head-to-head comparisons with the top-of-the-line Intel products, in part because it is targeting more cost-sensitive enterprise application stretching from pretty standard workflows up into more HPC domains. Shown here is a comparison provided by Cavium against Intel’s E5-2690v3 for cloud workloads.

ThunderX.Intel.comparison

Cavium’s full announcement is available here: http://www.cavium.com/newsevents-Cavium-Announces-ThunderX2.html

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