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AMD to bring SeaMicro server fabrics to the masses

AMD’s SeaMicro buy could be the harbinger of a fundamental shift in how servers are designed, experts say.

AMD’s big bet on SeaMicro this week signals a move toward server fabrics that scale beyond low-power microservers.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. (AMD) purchased Intel Corp. partner SeaMicro Wednesday for $334 million, of which approximately $281 million will be paid in cash. The acquisition is expected to close within 30 days.

SeaMicro’s architecture packs chips into a chassis using a business-card-sized motherboard with just three components: a CPU, DRAM and an ASIC that connects into SeaMicro’s secret sauce called the Freedom Supercompute Fabric.

This fabric can replace up to 1,000 Gigabit Ethernet switch ports external to the server, instead creating a tightly knit bundle of processors, disk and memory with high amounts of bandwidth between each, to the tune of 2.5 Gbps per core of compute.

AMD to move SeaMicro beyond cloud data centers
Microservers had carved a niche in cloud computing data centers with huge numbers of small scale-out workloads, but AMD’s acquisition and OEM plans have analysts predicting a shift in the way enterprise servers are made.

“The notion of building servers around a scalable fabric and sharing things – blade servers have already proven at a coarse level that that can happen,” said Richard Fichera, analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research. “Extending the fabric a little further and making it more scalable seems like a logical next step, and I think it could [then] spill over into the general enterprise server world as well.”

There, fabric-based servers could be suitable for Web and application servers that have “bursty, chatty, spiky traffic,” Fichera said. This could include SharePoint infrastructure servers, DNS, print and file servers, security appliances  – “anything that doesn’t have a steady high I/O load is probably a reasonable workload for these things,” he said.

While the average enterprise isn’t quite as concerned with maxing out on power as the mega-data centers which make up the cloud, “everybody these days spends time looking at how much it costs to run their servers,” said Nathan Brookwood, founder and principal analyst with Insight64 based in Saratoga, Calif.

“Ultimately [the SeaMicro design] will permeate enterprise applications and play an increasingly important role,” he added.

Until recently, SeaMicro focused on packing hundreds of low-power Intel Atom chips into its chassis, but in early February SeaMicro launched the SM10000-XE, which instead stuffs in 64 sockets, each with a quad-core 2.4 GHz E3-1260L Xeon CPU.

AMD will look to slot a number of different chip products into this architecture, from its Jaguar and Bobcat advanced processing units (APUs) manufactured for notebooks all the way up to its Bulldozer enterprise-level chips.

“Xeons are already in there. Why not swap it out with Opterons?” said Pete Sclafani, CIO at 6connect, a data center consulting firm based in Redwood City, Calif.

While AMD  promises to support current SeaMicro customers, the company will also break down SeaMicro’s architecture into its components parts, particularly the fabric, which it will then license to OEMs to build their own highly dense fabric-based servers.

This acquisition is also a significant one in the competition with Intel. The next phase of the battle in the chip market will be focused not just clock speed but clock cycles per watt.

“That’s really the next battleground: How efficient can I get this gear, and how can I address heat signature without compromising performance?” Sclafani said.

Beth Pariseau is a senior news writer for and Write to her at


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