Start-up launches DOE-backed green server

SeaMicro server uses Atom processors--a processor most commonly used in Netbooks--to save space, energy.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Start-up SeaMicro has launched a green server based on Intel's power-sipping Atom processor. The company is backed by about $25 million in venture capital and a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy.

Server circuit board is much smaller, more power efficient than typical servers. SeaMicro

SeaMicro's SM10000 packs 512 Intel Atom processors, storage, interconnect technology, and server management into a relatively compact 17.5-inch-high server. The size is referred to as 10 RU, or rack unit (1 RU equals 1.75 inches). This design saves lots of energy, reducing power consumption by 75 percent, according to SeaMicro.

In a radical departure from standard server architectures, the start-up selected Intel's Atom, a processor most commonly used in Netbooks--tiny laptops. The chip was designed by Intel to be its most power-efficient chip.

Atom, however, was not designed with servers in mind, though SeaMicro believes it has found a niche. "In the Internet data center, the challenge is to handle millions of relatively small, independent tasks like those needed for searching, social networking, viewing web pages, and checking email," SeaMicro said in a statement.

SeaMicro claims there is a mismatch between Internet server design and current central processing units or CPUs. "Volume servers failed to adapt to this fundamental change and remain optimized for (for more traditional server tasks). This mismatch between volume servers and the now dominant Internet workload is the primary cause of the rapid increase in server power consumption and is responsible for the multi-billion dollar power problem in the data center," SeaMicro said.

Three primary technology innovations define the system, according to SeaMicro:

  • Smaller circuit board: A patented technique in CPU I/O (input/output) virtualization, which reduces non-CPU power draw by eliminating 90 percent of the components from the motherboard. This CPU I/O virtualization allows SeaMicro to shrink a server motherboard from the size of a pizza box to the size of a credit card.
  • Power-efficient interconnect: A supercomputer-style interconnect fabric that can link 512 mini-motherboards into a single system, reducing power draw and space. This fabric provides 1.28 terabits per-second throughput, with security and redundancy. Additionally, the architecture can support any CPU instruction set--including x86, ARM, RISC--and support any protocol, including Ethernet, fibre channel, and data center Ethernet.
  • Server management technology: Dynamic Compute Allocation Technology (DCAT) combines CPU management and load balancing, allowing the SM10000 to dynamically allocate workloads to specific CPUs on the basis of power-usage metrics. This ensures that the active CPUs operate in the most energy-efficient utilization ranges.

The SeaMicro SM10000 will be generally available July 30 in the U.S. and some international locations. The list price for a base configuration is $139,000.

The company has raised $25 million from strategic partners and venture capitalists including Khosla Ventures, Draper Fisher Jurvetson, and Crosslink Capital, according to a statement. SeaMicro was also awarded a $9.3 million grant from the Department of Energy, which "was the largest grant awarded to a server company in the Information and Communication Technology Sector," the company said.