Qualcomm and Cavium ARM Based Servers Get a Boost with Microsoft Hyperscale Cloud Adoption

Project Olympus

Project Olympus Will Use ARM

Microsoft is preparing for the next generation of cloud optimized hyperscale servers and in a blog by Leendert van Doorn, Distinguished Engineer, the company announced today it is going to use Qualcomm and Cavium servers for Project Olympus, an Open Source hardware project.  

The announcement came ahead of the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit 2017  which starts today at the Santa Clara Convention Center, California. OCP was started by Facebook in 2011 in an attempt to standardize hardware design in a world full of proprietary servers, storage etc. The movement has been very successful with the who’s who of hardware and cloud providers joining as members. From Intel, nVidia, Dell, Lenovo, HPE, Cisco to Google and Yahoo have joined or embraced this organization. The purpose of this project is to make data center hardware more efficient and scalable for uses in cloud, big data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) applications.

In October 2016, Microsoft’s Kushagra Vaid, GM Azure Hardware Infrastructure announced Project Olympus in collaboration with OCP’s Chief Technology Officer, Bill Carter with the intent of sharing cloud hardware design with the open source community at the 50% completion mark – this was unprecedented in the world of hardware. Open Source Software projects such as Linux are used to seeing incomplete code contributions. Vaid also said over 90% of servers purchased by Microsoft are based on designs from the OCP community which further substantiates Microsoft’s commitment to Open Source Hardware.

Server Specification and Why ARM?

Project Olympus Specification

Qualcomm Demo Server

Cavium Demo Server

The proposed Project Olympus server design in October 2016 called for a 1U/2U server chassis with a Universal motherboard, solid state high density storage, redundant power supplies, 50G networking bandwidth etc. Qualcomm today responded to the server specification using its 10 nanometer Qualcomm Centriq 2400 platform designed to run cloud workloads on the Microsoft Azure cloud platform. Qualcomm also demonstrated Microsoft Windows Server running on a Centriq 2400 platform. Cavium, another ARM vendor demonstrated their server SoC based on their 2nd generation 64-bit ThunderX2 ARMv8-A processor.

Ram Peddibhotla, vice president, product management, Qualcomm said in a press release,

“In collaborating with Microsoft and other industry leading partners, we are democratizing system design and enabling a broad-based ARM server ecosystem.”

Leendert van Doorn explained in his blog that Microsoft found ARM servers to be very suitable for cloud applications and for indexing, storage, databases, big data analytics, machine learning and Artificial Intelligence (AI).

“The high Instruction Per Cycle (IPC) counts, high core and thread counts, the connectivity options and the integration that we see across the ARM ecosystem is very exciting and continue to improve.”
Low powered ARM processors have been featured in servers from Calxeda which shut down operations and other vendors such as AMD and AppliedMicro Circuits have embraced server based ARM design in the past. However ARM in servers did not take off and Intel was able to retain its advantage in data center applications. With Microsoft possibly deploying thousands of ARM servers, it certainly gives the technology a much stronger footprint.
Project Olympus 4
Project Olympus 3However Microsoft is not exclusively standardizing on ARM for Project Olympus. As per Kushagra Vaid’s latest blog released today,  Microsoft is partnering with Intel to use their next generation Intel Xeon processors, codename Skylake and also with AMD on their Naples processor. There is a whole ecosystem that is developing with major hardware vendors participating in this Open Source project. Microsoft also announced hyperscale GPU partnership with NVIDIA and Ingrasys to accelerate Artificial Intelligence applications in the next generation cloud.

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