Advanced Computing in the Age of AI | Saturday, December 3, 2022

Sneak Peeks At Some Future Open Compute Servers 

Events like the Open Compute Summit are like show-and-tell for hardware geeks. It is a chance for system designers, builders, and in this case customers to give their peers a sense of what they have been working on. There usually is not a lot of detail about these systems, but it is fun just the same.

Chip maker Intel does not manufacture servers, although it certainly makes processors, chipsets, and motherboards that others, in turn, can use to create systems. Eric Hooper, director of cloud service provider optimization at Intel, showed off two systems, one code-named "Panther" and the other "Leopard" that are respectively based on Intel's current "Avoton" Atom C2000 and the future "Haswell" Xeon E5 processors. Here is a shot of Hooper showing off the Panther server card:


Panther is a single-socket processor card that plugs into the "Group Hug" microserver enclosure that has been designed by Facebook and that will be compatible with multiple processor types and system interconnects. In this above picture, the Panther server node is on the left and the projector clicker is in Hooper's hand on the right.

The Group Hug midplane has two rows of these microservers, with five per row, in the same space as a two-socket X86 server takes up in an Open Rack design. Three of these midplane boards slide into a backplane, which then links the combined 30 nodes in the chassis to power, external storage, and networking. As EnterpriseTech reports elsewhere, AMD and Applied Micro are working on their own microserver cards for the Group Hug system that use their respective Opteron A and X-Gene processors, both due later this year.

Here is Hooper showing off the Leopard sled server:


Aaron Sullivan, director and principal engineer in the supply chain operation at Rackspace Hosting, showed off some derivative OCP servers it has created with Quanta and also showed pictures of some newer designs, not yet donated to the OCP, that it was worked with Wiwynn to create:


The Quanta and Wiwynn machines at the top of this chart take two different approaches to cram four servers into a single chassis, and the Quanta system on the right is a variant of the Open Vault storage that Facebook uses internally and donated to the OCP cause. Sullivan did not say much about the funky Wiwynn machine at the bottom right of this chart, except to say that it incorporated flash storage.

Curt Belusar, director of hyperscale engineering at Hewlett-Packard, flashed up a slide of the "Coyote" variants of OCP-inspired ProLiant SL machines, which it has been making since 2012. These include the SL2100 and SL2150, the former putting two servers side-by-side in a standard 19-inch rack and the latter putting three servers in a row inside of the internally wider 21-inch rack designed by Facebook for its North Carolina and Sweden datacenters.


As you can see from the bottom of the slide, HP is one of the manufacturers that Microsoft is using for its home-designed Cloud Server, which the software giant is deploying in its own datacenters to support its Windows Azure cloud, Office 365, and Bing search services. Microsoft joined the Open Compute Project this week, and donated the design specs for the motherboards, servers, enclosure, and systems software to the open source hardware community. Microsoft has said that it has three different suppliers of these systems, and we now know that HP is one of them, with HP's variant of the machine being called the ProLiant SE2140W. Microsoft has worked with both Dell and HP in the past for its cloud build out.

Belusar let the cat out of the bag that HP was working with Microsoft to create a kicker system. This could be the very fuzzy machine at the bottom left of the slide above, or not. The one on the bottom right is definitely the mechanical design of the current Microsoft cloud servers.

ocp-dell-microsoft-serverBehind the scenes in the expo area of the Open Compute Summit, Dell was showing off its rendition of the Microsoft hyperscale server, so we also know that Dell is one of Microsoft's suppliers for these new machines. The interesting bit is that neither Dell nor HP have any rights on the designs – the Open Compute Project does. Of course, both companies can make these enclosures and servers for anyone who wants them, but any design value add, in terms of generating revenues for these companies, will be small.

"Dell supports the Microsoft cloud server specification which they donated to OCP and are pleased to be working with them," says Greg Gibby, product marketing manager of the Data Center Solutions group at Dell, which is the part of the company that makes custom servers and datacenter designs for hyperscale customers. "Systems based on the Microsoft Cloud Server specification are available for order today through Dell DCS for qualified hyperscale customers."

We will track down details on these and other new and forthcoming OCP machines and report back.

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