AMD’s SeaMicro Takes on Storage with SM15000

The SeaMicro SM15000 server (rear view).

AMD has unveiled the SeaMicro SM15000 server, taking its Freedom Fabric outside the box to support petabytes’ worth of storage arrays.

AMD acquired SeaMicro back in March for approximately $334 million, intending to use the latter’s assets as a foundation for a new generation of server technology.

Despite his company’s much-publicized competition with Intel, AMD executive (and former SeaMicro CEO) Andrew Feldman said the new platform would support several generations of Intel Xeon processors. The SM15000 supports the E3-1260L “Sandy Bridge” architecture, and will add support for the next-generation Intel Xeon E3-1265LV2 “Ivy Bridge” core as well as AMD’s own “Piledriver” core in November.

The SM15000 includes three new compute cards.

One of SeaMicro’s key assets is its I/O virtualization technology, which eliminates the need for components beyond the CPU, memory, and SeaMicro ASIC chip. Another is its Freedom Supercomputer Fabric, which allows all CPUs within the system to share attached storage equally at a fabric throughput of 1.28 terabits per second. According to AMD, the new SM15000 supports up to 1,408 hard drives or SSDs.

Feldman positioned the new SeaMicro servers as ideal for frameworks such as Hadoop, which was designed to sidestep the resources-intensive practice of using SANs for massive storage and processing before moving the data to a number of blades for processing. Feldman suggested that using SANs or hanging storage off a Fibre Channel switch, though simple and relatively cheap, represents the old way of doing things.

“What the industry failed to see what that compute, storage, and networking were intertwined pieces of the solution,” Feldman said at a Sept. 10 press conference. “And all those that made servers, networking devices and storage failed to meet the reality that in the server, they were pieces of a single solution.”

The high level of integration allows the SM15000 to consume 20 kilowatts, half that of a traditional SAN-based architecture. It’s also the same amount SeaMicro’s servers consume for a fully populated (16 storage enclosures, 512 cores, 5 petabytes of storage) server, an AMD spokeswoman said via email.

AMD’s SeaMicro SM15000 will be available with 64 compute cards. The Opteron option will include a 2.0-GHz/2.3-GHz/2.8-GHz “Piledriver” Opteron eight-core chip for a total of 512 cores per system or 2,048 cores per rack. The Ivy Bridge option will use a 2.5-GHz quad-core Xeon E3-1265LV2 for 256 cores per 10-rack system or 1,024 cores per rack.

The server also contains 16 fabric extender slots, which can connect to three different Freedom Fabric storage arrays: the FS 5084-L, an ultra-dense system with 84 SAS/SATA 2.5-inch or 3.5-inch drives, arranged in 5-rack units for a total of 5 petabytes per system; the FS2012-L, which uses 12 2.5-inch/3.5-inch drives in 2 rack units for up to 48 TB of capacity per array or 768 TB per system; and the FS 2024-S, which uses up to 24 2.5-inch drives in 2 rack units for a total of 24 TB per array or 384 TB per system.

Support

Feldman said that SeaMicro and AMD were currently in active discussions with larger OEMs such as HP and Dell to license the Freedom Fabric: “We are in discussions right now with… an entire ecosystem filled with potential partners.”

Somewhat surprisingly, Feldman did not indicate that the Xeon version of the SeaMicro SM15000 would be handicapped or relegated to some lower-priority tier—although he did not comment specifically on pricing premiums, either. According to analyst Martin Reynolds of Gartner, that silence suggests AMD recognizes that the Xeon is the favored architecture at this point in time.

A starter system will cost about $139,000, with 64 Sandy Bridge sockets, 8 disks and 16 1-Gig uplinks, Feldman said. A spokeswoman for AMD added that the company was not prepared to discuss the prices of the Opteron or Ivy Bridge systems.

Intel’s Atom will continue to be supported, Feldman said, as will ARM chips when the 64-bit solutions begin rolling out in production in 2014. Rohith Pai, vice president of business development at AMCC, told SlashDataCenter that the well-received X-Gene platform AMCC debuted at Hot Chips would sample at the end of the year, but that actual production was slated for late in 2013. Systems, of course, will follow later.

Feldman himself took a more pragmatic view, with the bold statement that multiple Xeon generations would be supported.  “We will continue to build with these—we are interested in building extraordinary solutions for large customers,” he said. “That requires us to keep an open mind.”

Analyst Pat Moorhead of Moor Insights, a former AMD corporate fellow, said he didn’t expect AMD’s commitment to a competitor. “I saw two big things,” he said. “The first thing is that we’re going to be in the hardware business for a long, long time. The second thing is that [they said] they’re going to support multiple generations of Xeon processors. That surprised me.”

AMD may not have the support or “feet-on-the-street” sales structure of some of its server rivals, either. “We’ll have to see where that goes,” Moorhead said.

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