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Intel Brings Atom To The Data Centre

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The Atom S1200 is Intel’s latest weapon in the fight for the future of the server market

Today, Intel has launched a low-power 64-bit System-on-a-Chip (SoC) designed specifically for the data centre. The new Atom S1200 consumes just 6W, and was created to be used in microservers, embedded systems and storage.

High density servers based on low-power processors are able to deliver solid performance while at the same time significantly reducing the energy consumption. The new Atom chips could help the company compete against ARM, which has set its sights on the market traditionally dominated by Intel.

The Atomic Age

Contrary to popular belief, Intel was developing low-power microserver chips long before ARM rose to prominence. The idea of having several underpowered processors instead of one power-hungry piece of silicon were first discussed in 2006, and the company had a concept system ready by 2009. In 2010, two commercial microservers based on Xeon chips hit the market, but failed to make an impact.

According to Intel’s EMEA product manager Chris Feltham, the company has seen increased segmentation in IT infrastructure. The demands of enterprise (floating point operations) per Watt than FLOPS per dollar.

With this in mind, Intel decided to add depth to its product portfolio by letting its efficient Atom chips loose on a server farm. The company is still confident in its big, hot Xeon processors, but advises customers to choose “right-sized processing” for the job.

The Atom S1200 SoC runs on just 6W of juice, and puts out considerably less heat that its Xeon brothers. However, TechWeekEurope was told that with the possibility of having over a thousand nodes per rack, users are unlikely to cut their costs on cooling.

Each 32nm dual-core chip is clocked at up to 2 GHz, has four threads, 1MB of cache and comes with ECC memory support and hardware-assisted Intel Virtualisation Technology. But most importantly, all new Atoms are backwards compatible with all existing Xeon software.

“With the launch of the Intel Atom S1200 series processor today, organisations need no longer wait to take advantage of a 64-bit microserver platform to run big data analytics on a hyper scale infrastructure,” commented Mitch Ferguson, vice president of Business Development at big Data specialist firm Hortonworks.

“VMware and Intel have a longstanding partnership to provide robust solutions to IT organisations as they realise the value gained from the software-defined data centre. The x86 benefits of  ‘maximum ROI’ coding can deliver great value to our customers, and enables workloads running on VMware cloud infrastructure to harness the expansive range of Intel’s server platform portfolio,” said Scott Aronson, senior vice president of Global Channels and Alliances at VMware.

But it’s not just the software vendors that are excited. “We tested an HP Gemini beta system with the Intel Atom S1200 product family, and compared it with our Dedicated Server products. The first results were promising, and we were intrigued by the balance HP achieved between power, performance and value, the 64-bit support and software compatibility that Intel Atom S1200 provides,” said Marc Burkels, dedicated server and collocation manager at LeaseWeb.

“Based on what we have seen so far, HP appears to have developed a highly efficient solution that is ideal for light Scale-Out workloads,” he added.

Intel plans to offer a 22nm Atom SoC codenamed “Avoton” next year, and it wants to shrink the manufacturing process even further in 2014. The company has already scored over 20 design wins with manufacturers like HP, Dell, Huawei and Supermicro. The new chips have started shipping today, with recommended customer price starting at $54 in quantities of 1,000 units.

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