By Camuel Gilyadov, on January 17th, 2011

Upcoming hardware renaissance era: part #2.

Some examples of upcoming hardware renaissance era:

1. Virtually all server vendors are pitching modularized data centers by now. MDC are boxes resembling shipping containers accommodating complete vritualized data-center inside. With MDC one just connects power, network and chilled water and gets access to the cloud in the box. Most MDC are good to be deployed outside and have built-in protection against weather elements. Of course all current offering are based on x86 commodity servers but here is a hint: once competition moves to comparing whose shipping container can stuff more storage and computing power inside and who has better price/performance and energy efficiency, we will see innovation in hardware skyrocketing.

2. On processor front…. ARM architecture has all ingredients to become next Intel. If I am not mistaken, ARM processors are outnumbering x86 10 to 1 with tens of billions of processors shipped. 95% of cellphones and advanced gadgets use ARM. ARM power efficiency puts x86 in shame. However, till now ARM was focused on gadgets and dismissed data-center market. Not anymore! With newer Cortex-A15 ARM took aim at x86 on datacenter territory. Calxeda already got ~$50M in venture money for commercializing ARM in datacenter. However, ARM is not alone here, Tilera with their server-vendor partner Quanta are already shipping 512 core server in 2U form-factor. Tilera took lean MIPS processor core and put some 100 of them into single die together with x8 10Gbit Ethernet channels and four DDR3 memory channels. Nvidia also claimed that they are not GPU-only vendor anymore and are readying general-purpose processors based on ARM architecture with ample amount of GPU muscle inside. That said Intel and AMD are also far from stagnating and moving into heterogeneous many-core designs. I think we never witnessed more innovation in processor space than now.

3. On memory front… Flash is making inroads to claim space in memory-hierarchy between DRAM and HDD. Disrupting DRAM market and high-performance 15K RPM HDD market. I think 15K RPM HDD and DRAM-based SSD products are already safe to be declared dead. Same about HDD smaller than 2.5 inch form-factor. I even think 2.5 HDD are also in risk. Only capacity-optimized HDDs would survive. Even without flash, the DRAM got such capacity that most datasets fits in RAM completely. And if not in RAM of single server than it surely fits in shared cluster RAM. This solid-memory advancements in DRAM and Flash disrupts storage market, especially making high-performance SAN redundant. The only storage tomorrow server will need is capacity-optimized and energy-optimized ones. That fact among other forced EMC to move into computing… and provide complete cloud in the box instead just storage in the box like it did in the past.

4. Networking… in my view networking is most stagnating hardware market here. Infiniband finally moves into mainstream and it is good. Does it? Or it will succumb to 10GbE? Remains to be seen. My bet is on Infiniband due to architectural superiority. Networking virtualization is still on whiteboards… unfortunately. So in networking there is no signs of renaissance but the potential is there.

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