Super Micro says MicroClouds will rain down in July
Packs them in for micro server preview
Motherboard and whitebox server maker Super Micro is showing off its first entry into the so-called micro server segment, called the MicroCloud, at the Computex 2011 trade show in Taipei, Taiwan this week. The company had been hinting back in April  that the MicroClouds were in the works.
The MicroCloud machines, like a number of micro server designs  that are rolling out this year, are based on Intel's new "Sandy Bridge-DT" Xeon E3-1200 processors, which launched in March . The Xeon E3 processors are designed for single-socket machines, and using Intel's "Bromolow" platform have four DDR3 memory slots per processor socket. They also have somewhat limited I/O expansion compared to the uniprocessor and two-socket "Romley" platforms based on the "Sandy Bridge-EN" processors  – to be launched in the third quarter as the Xeon E5s if rumor has it right.
There are a number of ways to create a micro server, and one of them is to make a tray server that slides into a chassis, either in a vertical row as most blade servers do, or horizontally, three side-by-side, in a chassis. The thing about micro servers is that they are designed for relatively lightweight workloads, do not require a lot of CPU or memory, and are usually inherently parallel workloads where each node in a cluster is not particularly important to the overall processing being done in the cluster. Because the software stack includes data replication and workload balancing across hundreds or thousands of nodes and usually with relatively cheap top-of-rack switching, all of the system management controller, networking backplane, and integrated switching that is part of a much more expensive blade server is ripped out of the micro server. That means you can cram more server nodes into a box, and for some workloads, having the lower energy consumption and the lowest price per node are the most important thing for customers.
The Super Micro MicroCloud micro server
Intel executives have said that they expect micro servers to eventually comprise about 10 per cent of the server volumes, thanks to their adoption by cloud infrastructure and hosting suppliers, and about two-thirds of those machines would be best suited to a Xeon, rather than an Atom, processor. So it is no surprise, then, that Super Micro's first foray into micro servers is based on the Xeon E3 processors rather than the Atom. That said, Super Micro may plunk one or more Atom processors onto a server tray for the MicroCloud boxes at some point – the company is not saying at this time if that is the plan.
But this secret decoder ring chart that Super Micro partners have been given to understand the naming conventions for the MicroCloud components shows what options the company might be planning for:
As you can see, Super Micro can contemplate a number of chassis form factors (3U, 4U, and 6U), processor architectures and coprocessors, and peripheral expansion for the MicroClouds.
The first machines, called the SYS-5037MC-H8TR, come in a 3U chassis that has the disk drives in the front and the server trays in the back. Generally speaking, you always want to pull the coldest air over the disks first, since they are more susceptible to heat than processors and memory. Although, having said that, a number of micro server designs are putting disks on the back of the tray and integrated on the tray itself. Super Micro has decided that it is better to have hot-plug disks in the front that can be replaced independently of the servers. Similarly, server trays can be slid out and repaired or replaced in the event of a failure independently of the disks.
The MicroCloud chassis has room for sixteen hot-swap, 3.5-inch SATA drives in the front and eight hot-plug server trays and two 1,620 watt power supplies in the back. Those power supplies are rated at 94 per cent efficiency.
The cloudy server is based on Super Micro's own MB-X9SCD-F motherboard, which is designed for the Xeon E3-1200 processors and the "Cougar Point" C204 chipset from Intel. The system supports up to 32GB of main memory for the single socket using 8GB memory sticks, which can run at 1.07GHz or 1.33GHz. Skinnier 1GB, 2GB, and 4GB memory sticks are also supported. Each mobo has two 6Gb/sec SATA ports for the disks, two Gigabit Ethernet ports implemented using Intel's 82580 chip, and one dedicated LAN port for IMPI remote management of the nodes. The server tray has a single PCI-Express 2.0 x8 low-profile expansion slot that comes off the rise card and another x8 slot that is used by the Intel Ethernet card. The disks can be mirrored with RAID 1 mirroring if customers want to do that.
Here's what the MB-X9SCD-F mobo looks like:
The spec sheet for the forthcoming MicroCloud machine says that the Socket-H2 socket on the board, which is Intel's LGA-1155 socket if you track the name that way, can support the Xeon E3-1200 processors or the Sandy Bridge variants of the Core i3 processors for desktops that plug into the same H2 socket. It looks like the motherboard has two SATA 3.0 ports, which are used for the disks, as well as two legacy SATA 2.0 ports (running at 3Gb/sec) and a SATA DOM port for linking a flash module to the board.
The MicroCloud unit has four heavy duty 8 centimeter fans to pull air through the chassis and keep everything cool.
David Okada, a spokesman for Super Micro, tells El Reg that the MicroCloud machines are sampling to customers and OEM partners now, and will be generally available at the end of July. Pricing for the machines was not set as yet. While the MicroCloud decoder ring did not say this, Okada confirmed to El Reg that Super Micro will support processors from Advanced Micro Devices in the MicroClouds at some point in the future. ®