The Intel Developer Forum (IDF) was held last week and it was an amazing collection of the brightest minds in the industry looking to push the technology envelope.

 

Like in years past, when it comes time to for Intel® to debut its new products at IDF they are always better and more powerful.  But this year we had one announcement that bucked that trend.  It was a new product that was better and less powerful.

 

I’m talking about microservers, a new trend in computing where multiple, lower performance, lower power processors are used as servers for a new class of computing tasks. It was one of the topics I presented at two poster chats on Tuesday and to about 60 attendees during my technical session on Wednesday.

 

The microserver initiative fits with Intel’s strategy of developing “workload-optimized” solutions.  There are a lot of computing tasks, such as memory caching, dedicated webhosting and cold storage, where the processing and I/O demands per server are light.

 

To meet these needs, we formerly introduced the Intel Atom™ C2000, at a special event one week before IDF.

 

The density of microservers on a board makes networking these new systems a challenge. The power profile of the Atom™ C2000, for example, allows data center shelves with 48 microservers per board. A standard telecom rack can hold 12 of these shelves for a total of 576 microservers per rack. That’s more network connections than many enterprise workgroups.

 

However, by using the Intel® Ethernet Switch FM5224 chip, all of the processors on a shelf can be internetworked so that there are only a few uplink connections needed to a top of-rack-switch.  This makes it manageable from a connectivity perspective. 

 

But there’s still traffic from all of the processors that needs to be routed.  That is why we’re evolving our Open Network Platform (ONP) software-defined networking (SDN) architecture to support microservers. 

 

My colleague Recep wrote a post on this blog describing how SDN works just recently, so I’ll just summarize here to say that SDN shifts the packet processing intelligence from the switch to a centralized controller. This offers the benefit of reducing the complexity of network design and increasing the throughput.

 

Many microservers today are sold with proprietary networking software.  The issue with this is vendor lock in and the potential for slower pace of innovation.  This last point is important since many of the applications for microservers are cloud-based and that market is evolving very quickly.

 

Intel’s Open Network Platform combines the performance of our Intel Ethernet Switch FM5000/FM6000 high-volume, high performance switching hardware with ONP software based on Windriver Linux.  In addition, there are open APIs for drivers to eliminate vendor lock in and APIs for controllers and a wide variety of third-party apps and OEM apps.

 

What this means to microserver OEMs is that they can bring their own unique differentiating software to their products while at the same time integrating with an SDN controller or other app from a third party.  Cost is kept at a minimum while functionality and differentiation is maximized. 

 

The reception to this message at IDF13 was good and already several OEMs are planning to develop microserver products.  We’ll take a look at some of those designs in a future blog post.