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Quanta leaps out in front with Centerton Atom microserver

Trying to get the jump on HP Gemini boxes

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Quanta QCT is revving up an Atom-based microserver using the future "Centerton" processor from Intel at this week's Intel Developer Forum, and the company hopes it can get some interest in the boxes for webby workloads ahead of their shipment later this year.

The US operations of Quanta QCT were set up in May of this year with the express purpose of giving whitebox server makers, original design manufacturers (ODMs), and anyone making rack or microserver boxes a bit of competition from China. Quanta QCT is the server and storage manufacturing arm of $37bn Taiwanese giant Quanta Computer, which makes a very large portion of the laptops sold in the world today (regardless of the brand slapped on them) and which has similar aspirations in Serverland.

Back in June, Quanta QCT actually put out a microserver based on Intel's "Ivy Bridge" Xeon E3-1200 v2 processors, given the cloudy-appropriate Stratos brand, but the company didn't make any noise about it. The Centerton-based microserver shares the same chassis and a similar sled server design as this existing Stratos S910 machine. In July, Quanta QCT inked a server adapter and switch partnership with Mellanox Technologies, allowing it to use Mellanox silicon and switches in its gear. There could be some interesting networking in there as well.

The Stratos S910-X31B machine comes with either nine or 12 server sleds, which slide into the 3U rack-mounted chassis. That chassis has shared power supplies, fans, and cabling, and the server sleds are hot-pluggable into the chassis. The server boards have one low-speed Ethernet console management port and two 10 Gigabit Ethernet ports for linking to the outside world. You can do that directly to a top-of-rack switch, or you can put an optional switch module inside the chassis that has two 10GE ports that are shared by all of the boxes in the chassis.

The S910-X31B Xeon E3-based microserver from Quanta

The S910-X31B Xeon E3-based microserver from Quanta

Both S910-X31B server nodes are based on Intel's C204 chipset and sport one Xeon E3 socket. The skinnier sleds only support Xeon E3 processors with up to 69 watt thermal design points and have no PCI-Express 3.0 expansion slots. The fatter nodes used in the nine-server configuration has one PCI-Express slot, which can be used for an LSI SAS RAID controller or a single-port 10GE mezzanine card to add one more link to the two on the system board. Both Xeon E3 sleds have four memory slots and have room for two 3.5-inch or four 2.5-inch SATA disk drives, and the software RAID on the C204 chipset sports RAID 0, 1, 5, and 10 data protection. The chassis comes with two platinum-level efficiency 1200 watt power supplies, which feed all of the nodes in the chassis.

The details are a bit skinny on the Centerton Atom microservers, but Quanta QCT is saying that it is offering 24 or 48 server nodes in a chassis. This is accomplished by a mix of thinner nodes with two Centerton Atom nodes and allowing for up to 24 sleds in the chassis and slightly fatter nodes that have two nodes on a sled and up to a dozen sleds slide into that 3U chassis. Each node, which will be called the Stratos S900-X31A in the Quanta QCT catalog, will have up to 16GB of memory per logical server node and will support two 2.5-inch SATA drives and two Gigabit Ethernet ports for each node. Those nodes can plug into the same shared management and two 10GE uplink ports in the chassis switch.

As El Reg reported back in June, the Centerton Atoms are the main weapon that Chipzilla will be deploying to try to blunt the attack of the ARM RISC chip collective that is assaulting Intel's server processor hegemony. Back in June, Hewlett-Packard said its next-generation "Gemini" servers would be based on the same Centerton Atom chips and would be the next machines in the "Project Moonshot" effort to revamp the company cloudy server boxes to be more competitive

The Centerton Atom is a system-on-chip design aimed at reducing the componentry needed on a mobo to make a server. This future Atom processor, which is expected to ship this year, has two cores and supports 64-bit processing on those cores, ECC on its DDR3 memory, VT-x virtualization assistance, and HyperThreading for boosting throughput. These are necessary items in a server environment. And for cloudy servers, low power is also a necessity, and Intel is now saying that the Centerton Atom will have a TDP of only 6 watts.

It will be very interesting to see how a chassis full of QCT S910 sleds loaded up with a dozen two-core Xeon E3-1220L v3 parts, which run at 2.3GHz and burn at 17 watts, stacks up against a chassis loaded up with 24 QCT S900 sleds with 48 Centerton Atoms matches up. The densest Atom version will have 96 cores compared to 24 for the Xeon E3 version. That's four times the cores and maybe 45 per cent lower clock speed if the Centerton comes in at around 1.3GHz. On workloads that don't need high-speed networking (Gigabit speeds are fine) or fat cores with lots of main memory (distributed web apps often don't), then the Atom box will have about twice the computing oomph in a 3U rack and maybe burn 30 per cent less juice.

We'll find out more at IDF this week, hopefully. ®

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