Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Intel Wants to Redesign Your Server Rack

A few days after tech giant Hewlett-Packard unveiled its idea for a fundamental rethink of the server, chip giant Intel, which often has a way of setting the agenda on these things, has floated a concept for a rethink of the server rack.

In comments at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing overnight, Diane Bryant, senior vice president and head of the Datacenter and Connected Systems Group, described a rethink of how data centers might be designed. Currently, individual servers, each with its own computing and storage, are being packed tightly together in a rack, and in turn packed into a room with other similar racks.

Intel sees a world where all the computing and storage portions are separated. CPUs would be grouped together so they could be cooled together. They would in turn be linked to storage infrastructure by screaming-fast optical connections running as fast as 100 gigabits per second.

Eventually, Intel sees everything being separated into its own section of the rack: CPU, memory, storage and power. The point is that you’ll be able to upgrade one — swap out older memory modules for newer ones, or upgrade the CPUs, or replace a bad hard drive — without interfering with the operation of any of the other parts.

Intel’s play, Bryant said, is to offer a reference design — essentially a basic recipe for building the concept — to the big server manufacturers. And at least some portions of this concept are already operating in China. Intel has been working with Web commerce giant Alibaba, Web search concern Baidu, Chinese Internet company Tencent and China Telecom on something they call Project Scorpio. The idea is to centralize all the cooling and fans within the rack, and to demonstrate that you can save on operating costs.

There were new Intel chips disclosed, too. A chip code-named Avoton is due in the second half of this year. It’s a version of Intel’s lightweight Atom processor, aimed at small servers — not unlike HP’s Project Moonshot — that will be built on Intel’s latest 22-nanometer manufacturing process, and with a new design. In Intel’s recent “tick-tock” parlance, where it delivers a new design — a tick — then shrinks it with an new smaller manufacturing technology — a tock — this is effectively both.

Another chip, code-named Rangeley and also due in the second half of the year, is a 22-nanometer variant of Atom that will be aimed at networking devices, routers, switches and whatnot.

There were also three versions of the Xeon chip discussed. The next E3 will get some new tricks to support video analytics workloads. The next Xeon E5 will move to the 22-nanometer manufacturing process (that’s a tock), and will be available in the fall. Finally, a new Xeon E7 will be available in the fourth quarter. Its newest trick is that it can address three times the memory of its predecessor — up to 12 terabytes.

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