Facebook tech summit launches ARM-based servers

Rex Computing, a start-up server company, introduced an ARM-based server blade prototype at the Open Compute Summit, a Facebook-led technology event in San Jose.

The full blade uses less than 150W of power runing its 32 ARM Cortex-A9 cores and 256 Epiphany co-processor cores.

The system architecture incoporates 16 processing nodes each with a dual-core Xilinx Zynq ARM processor and an Adapteva Epiphany III co-processor.

Thomas Sohmers

Thomas Sohmers

Each compute node consumes less than 5W of electricity, with the Epiphany coprocessor alone consuming a mere 2W while delivering over 30 GFLOPs (Billion floating point operations per second).

“For decades the enterprise hardware industry has been dominated by large, established companies with little interest in fixing systemic problems throughout the business. With data centers and cluster computing these problems are particularly grim: everything from the basic architectures being used, how software is written, and even what racks are used, has become a drag on innovation throughout the industry,” said Thomas Sohmers, CEO and co-founder of Rex Computing, which was founded in 2013 by MIT researchers.

“Now, thanks to developments like the Open Compute Project, a nimble start-up like Rex can innovate in key areas without reinventing the wheel. We can keep our costs low without having to worry about designing a new form factor, confident that we have access to the best data center components and designs already known by our customers.”

The Open Compute Project  involved a team of Facebook engineers investigating how to scale its computing infrastructure. Working out of an electronics lab in Facebook’s Palo Alto California headquarters, the team designed its first data centre from the ground up and then started building it in Prineville, Oregon.

The project, which started out with three people, resulted in Facebook building custom-designed servers, power supplies, server racks and battery backup systems.

According to Frank Frankovsky, chairman and president of the Open Compute Project, applying the principles of open source software – transparency, flexibility, and community – to hardware “lowers the barrier to entry and provides new routes to market for innovative technologies to reach customers large and small alike.”

Rex Computing’s prototype, on display at the OCP Summit, is being used to develop the software backend for future systems, in addition to showing the highly scalable nature of the coprocessor architecture being used.

Future product plans include the use of the 64-core Epiphany IV coprocessor, allowing up to 4096 Epiphany cores per server blade. Multiple blades can then be networked together in a rack, and then throughout a datacenter.


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