Cavium Announces GA for ThunderX2; Touts OEM Support

By John Russell

May 7, 2018

Cavium today announced general availability of ThunderX2 – its second generation 64-bit Armv8-A SoC line of processor. Cavium is claiming superior price-performance versus Intel Skylake counterparts and assembled endorsements from several large systems makers including HPE, Cray, and Atos as well as from influential HPC users including Sandia National Labs and the UK’s GW4 Isambard project.

ThunderX2, of course, isn’t exactly new. When it was introduced in May 2016 as a follow-on to ThunderX, most systems builders were quite chary of saying much about their Arm development or evaluation plans for fear of irritating Intel. Point taken, noted Cavium at the time. “No one wants to annoy the 800-pound gorilla. Neither do we,” said Gopal Hegde, VP/GM, Data Center Processor Group, Cavium, to HPCwire at launch (see HPCwire Cavium Unveils ThunderX2 Plans, Reports ARM Traction is Growing).

Now, like AMD and IBM, Cavium is taking more direct and public aim at Intel’s dominance – which still is overwhelming – in trying to wrest market share away. Consider today’s announcement:

“The ThunderX2 family includes more than 40 different SKUs for both scale up and scale out applications, ranging from top bin 32 core 2.5GHz parts to 16-core 1.6GHz parts, mapping directly across Intel’s Xeon Skylake server CPUs from highest end Platinum to low end SKUs. With list prices for volume SKUs (32 core 2.2GHz and below) ranging from $1795 to $800, the ThunderX2 family offers 2-4X better performance per dollar compared to Xeon Skylake family of processors.” Nothing shy there.

 

In a HPCwire briefing before the announcement, Surya Hotha, product line marketing director, and Larry Wikelius, VP software ecosystems & solutions group, argued the market is now hungry for an x86 alternative. They contend the necessary ingredients – high performant silicon (ThunderX2), a robust Arm ecosystem of applications, tools, and key Linux distros support (Red Hat and SUSE) – are finally present.

At least one OEM, a long-time Arm collaborator, agrees. “Since the first Mont-Blanc project, our vision has been that Arm based CPUs would be a good alternative for high end servers and HPC in particular,” said Eric Eppe, global head of solution marketing and portfolio – HPC and Quantum at Atos. “The HPC community was waiting for it, BullSequana X1000 and ThunderX2’s augmented memory bandwidth are offering the best-in-class TCO for customers using memory-bound applications.”

The technical advantages being touted are memory bandwidth and capacity. Cavium has pulled together several benchmarks, some done internally and others by third parties, to demonstrate ThunderX2 strength.

Of particular interest to the HPC community are several benchmarks run by the GW4 Isambard project. Simon McIntosh-Smith, leader of the GW4 Isambard project and professor of high performance computing at the University of Bristol, is quoted in the announcement, “We are running a set of widely used HPC science codes on prototype ThunderX2 platforms, and we are seeing impressive performance out of the box, competitive with high end, latest generation server CPUs. We are looking forward to deploying our production scientific workloads on ThunderX2 based production platforms.”

 

 

It will be interesting to watch how the number of OEM/ODMs supporting Arm and Cavium (or other Arm silicon suppliers) changes. Bulleted here are most of the testimonial quotes assembled by Cavium for the announcement:

  • Atos. “We’ve been working on ThunderX2 since its inception, it is now ready for prime time and we are really excited by this great step towards delivering Arm-based HPC platforms to our customers,” said Agnès Boudot – VP HPC & Quantum, Atos. “We have a long term strategic engagement with Arm and Cavium, which will lead the way to our Exascale Program.”
  • Cray. Fred Kohout, senior vice president of products and chief marketing officer at Cray said, “[C]ray is the only system partner that has developed an enhanced programming environment and compilers specifically for the Cavium ThunderX2 Arm processor.”
  • HPE. “We are impressed with the customer response to our early deployments of HPE Apollo 70 servers utilizing Cavium’s ThunderX2 Arm processors,” said Bill Mannel, vice president and general manager of High Performance Computing and Artificial Intelligence at HPE. “The ThunderX2 processor provides excellent compute and memory performance that is critical for our HPE Apollo 70 customers and the applications they depend on.”
  • Microsoft. Leendert van Doorn, distinguished engineer, Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Corp. said, “We congratulate Cavium on bringing a two-socket, highly competitive Arm server to the market that can address demanding workloads. We have contributed the design of the ThunderX2 motherboard for Microsoft’s Project Olympus specification to the Open Compute Project and we look forward to further optimizing our internal cloud services workloads for ThunderX2.”
  • Sandia. “Sandia has been actively testing a range of key codes and applications on ThunderX2 as part of our ASC Advanced Architecture Testbed project,” said Jim Laros, Principal Member of Technical Staff at Sandia National Laboratories. “Sandia’s experience with ThunderX2 to date has significantly accelerated our ability to expand our compute environment to support the Armv8 based system architecture along with optimized software solutions that are key to our research and development community.”

It’s probably worth noting that HPE isn’t a stranger to Arm and was enthusiastic at the launch (September 29, 2014) of its Proliant Moonshot Arm-based cartridge but very quiet about the product line when demand failed to materialize. At launch, then senior vice president and general manager, servers and networking, HP, Antonio Neri said, “Arm technology will change the dynamics of how enterprises build IT solutions to quickly address customer challenges. HP’s history, culture of innovation and proven leadership in server technology position us as the most qualified player to empower customers with greater choice in the server marketplace.”

It’s impossible to call all technology or market turns correctly but for the moment there seems to be more energy around diverse microprocessor offerings than in a long time and OEMs and ODMs seem less wary of bucking the status quo. Stay tuned.

ThunderX specs and features as reported by Cavium:  

“The ThunderX2 processor family is a single chip system on a chip (SoC). Key ThunderX2 features include:

  • Single chip system on a chip (SoC) server CPU
  • Core and socket level performance comparable to highest end Xeon Skylake Platinum CPUs
  • Second generation of full custom Cavium Arm core
    • Quad Issue, Fully Out of Order
    • Full SMT support – 1, 2, 4 threads per core
    • Up to 2.5 GHz in normal mode, up to 3 GHz in Turbo mode
    • 3X single thread performance compared to ThunderX®
  • Up to 32 cores per socket delivering > 2.5-3X socket level performance compared to ThunderX
  • Cache:
    • 32 KB L1 instruction and data cache, 256KB L2 per core
    • 32 MB distributed L3 cache
  • Advanced server class RAS features covering memory, CPU, cache, CCPI2 and PCIe interfaces
  • Advanced power management
    • On-chip management engine for dynamic voltage and frequency scaling across the chip
    • Full Turbo mode support
  • Single and dual socket configuration support using 2nd generation of Cavium Coherent Interconnect with > 2.5X coherent bandwidth compared to ThunderX
  • System Memory
    • 8 DDR4 memory controllers per socket
    • Dual DIMM per memory controller, for a total of 16 DIMMs per socket
    • Up to 4 TB of memory in dual socket configuration
    • 33% higher memory bandwidth and memory capacity compared to Xeon Skylake Platinum CPUs
  • Flexible IO:
    • Integrated 56 lanes of PCIe Gen3 interfaces, x1, x4, x8 and x16 support, 14 integrated PCIe controllers
    • Integrated SATAv3, GPIOs, USB interfaces
    • 16% higher IO bandwidth compared to Xeon Skylake Platinum CPUs”

Link to announcement: https://www.cavium.com/news/cavium-announces-thunderx2-general-availability

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