Marvell announced Feb. 20 that its Armada XP ARM chip would be integrated into a cloud-computing solution for Baidu, the Chinese search giant, in what the company claimed was the first use of the ARM architecture inside a customer server implementation.
Marvell executives declined to disclose many details of the agreement, which includes the 32-bit, quad-core version of the Armada XP, the MV78460 (its energy consumption totals about 10 watts—significantly less than the Intel Xeon X86 chips most servers typically used). Executives also declined to discuss how many microprocessors Marvell would supply as part of the deal, and the chips’ ultimate purpose. However, the Baidu implementation is apparently in production already.
Those questions aside, the deal represents an important endorsement for the ARM architecture, expected to first start appearing in servers sometime next year; some analysts believe that even the largest OEMs will need to develop hyperscale technology—possibly using ARM—or end up left behind. Companies such as Cavium have already begun seeding the ARM infrastructure.
Marvell’s ARM chips have won customers among OEMs. Last May, for example, Dell said that it would use the Armada XP inside its “Copper” systems, which feature a 3U rack-mount chassis stocked with up to 48 Marvell Armada system-on-chip processors based on ARM’s Cortex-A15 implementation. (Officially, they were considered a development environment.)
In Baidu’s case, Marvell worked with multiple undisclosed ODMs to design the servers, said Avi Liebermensch, manager of server products at Marvell. Marvell executives suggested the 64-bit version of the Armada XP would end up replacing the 32-bit chips. “Definitely in the future, once the 64-bit product is in production,” said Ramesh Sivakolundu, vice president and general manager of cloud business services for Marvell. He declined to say when the 64-bit version would ship, however.
Marvell said that it had tailored the ARM servers running in the Baidu data center for Baidu’s specific cloud-storage requirements. They include the Armada XP chip itself, a Marvell storage controller, and a 10 Gbit Ethernet switch. The Marvell platform is designed to increase the amount of storage for conventional 2U chassis up to 96 TB, and lower the total cost of ownership by 25 percent, compared with previous x86-based server solutions.
Sivakolundu said that the way Baidu organizes its cloud storage is very similar to the way in which Facebook archives its own “cold storage,” which the company discussed last month at the Facebook-sponsored Open Compute Summit. There, Facebook vice president of infrastructure Jay Parikh described the Facebook solution: three tiers of storage, with data shuffled back and forth between the tiers. Facebook uses a technique called shingled magnetic recording to maximize the storage capacity of each disk drive, while trying to avoid single points of failure.
Correction: Avi Liebermensch is manager of server products at Marvell.