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Will 'Wimpy Cores' Yield More Energy-Efficient Volume Servers for Cloud Computing?

ICT products manufacturer Quanta (Taiwan) supplies servers to Facebook and Google, cloud computing giants that spec their own server designs. It is also an investor in multi-core U.S. chip innovator Tilera. These relationships points to the possibility for a new generation of energy-efficient volume servers for cloud computing.

CPU frequency crossed the 3 GHz speed mark 10 years ago, but has stayed below 4 GHz since then. This is because the power consumption of faster CPUs would cause them to overheat without bulky and expensive cooling. The solution was to increase compute power by putting multiple sub-4 GHz CPUs - cores - on a single chip.

Tilera claims, "With a revolutionary new chip architecture and programming tool set, we can harness the processing power of hundreds of cores on a single chip. Tilera's technology addresses the three biggest challenges in today's semiconductor market, offering a processor that is high-performance, power-efficient, and easy to program." Tilera's newest cloud computing processor line features up to 100 1.5 GHz cores per chip, delivering "a 10-fold performance-per-watt advantage over Intel’s SandyBridge processor family". A Facebook paper investigating a Tilera-based processor validates this approach. "Despite their low clock speeds, these architectures can perform on-par or better than comparably powered low-core-count x86 server processors. Our experiments show that…When taking power and node integration into account as well, a TILEPro64-based S2Q server with 8 processors handles at least three times as many transactions per second per Watt as the x86-based servers with the same memory footprint." Quanta does not appear to have yet shipped any Tilera-based production servers to Facebook or others.

An alternative approach to cloud computing servers is to pack hundreds of inexpensive, low-power chips designed for mobile devices into a single server.

This whole trend of using low-speed, and therefore low-power, CPUs is known as 'wimpy cores' and 'wimpy chips', as opposed to the 'brawny' kind.


Quanta offers ENERGY STAR® qualified servers.