Calxeda’s Latest Technology Moves The Company Up The Cloud Server Food Chain

By Patrick Moorhead - October 28, 2013
Calxeda today announced its second generation server SoC at the ARM TechCon trade show. Code named “Midway”, the EnergyCore ECX-2000 is based on a quad-core 32-bit ARM A15, and the single chip integrates IP such as an 80Gb “Fleet Fabric Switch”, 10Gb Ethernet, and a dual- core ARM A7 processor to offload systems, power, and fleet management. The ECX-2000 is also pin-compatible with a new addition to the roadmap, a 64-bit SoC called “Sarita”. These improvements clearly move Calxeda up the cloud-server food chain to better address cloud storage, web hosting, and big data analytics workloads. Emerging cloud server workloads, when orchestrated “at-scale” by web giants like FacebookGoogle, and EBay, are very different than traditional enterprise workloads. First of all, the software is open source, like Linux OS, Ceph for storage, Hadoop-based analytics, and Apache web server. Communications across racks and inside servers is more important, too, increasing the importance of what is called “east-west” network traffic versus traditional “north-south” traffic favored by traditional file serving and enterprise databases. All these differences are why smaller cores with sophisticated fabric and networking can make a lot of sense, and this is where Calxeda’s new ECX-2000 comes into play. The ECX-2000 attacks the cloud workload challenge differently than an Intel Xeon, using smaller, distributed cores and high-speed fabric to crunch through distributed workloads.  Calxeda says the new ECX-2000 doubles performance, triples memory bandwidth, and quadruples memory addressability. It does this at very lower power, too, at around 5-11 watt per server including the CPU, networking, memory, storage I/O, and fabric.
Most of the improved performance comes from the integration of the new, standard ARM A15 processor core. What everyone needs to keep in mind, though, is that you can’t just throw cores at a server workload and be successful. Every ARM-based server SoC provider needs something special, some kind of “special sauce” to add value and differentiation. Calxeda knows this and their differentiator are their Fleet Fabric, Fleet Engine, and their integrated 10Gb networking. Calxeda also has an advantage of being the first-to-market with the first ARM-based SoC, and along with it, all the years of customer learnings.
Competitively, Calxeda is positioning the ECX-2000 versus Intel’s Atom C2530, code-named “Avoton”. Simply put, with the new SoC, Calxeda is running an integration play. On one piece of silicon, the ECX-2000 integrates an 80Gb fabric, 10Gb NIC, and a management engine. Avoton does not, and would require separate chips drawing more power, adding expense, and footprint to achieve this level of fabric and networking. The ultimate decision would need to be balanced, workload by workload, against Avoton’s support for 64-bit processing and compatibility with legacy software. Third-party benchmarks don’t exist yet, but look for rack-level ones as they tell the most. There is a lot of interest in the ECX-2000, but it is early in the cycle for Calxeda to be talking about wide-spread deployments. Calxeda expects beta shipments in Q4/13 followed by production systems in 1H/14. Hewlett-Packard, the world’s largest volume server OEM, will ship the new SoC for use in its new Moonshot solution in 2014. System builders are interested, too, and companies like Penguin, Boston, and Aaeon are planning to ship the ECX-2000. Open Compute’s President and Facebook datacenter VP Frank Frankovsky told me over the phone he really liked Calxeda’s approach and its people so much he joined Calxeda’s board of directors. It says a lot when a constituent from the world’s largest social media provider joins your board. After the ECX-2000 it gets even better with “Sarita,” a 64-bit SOC with ARM’s v8 faster instruction set, increased memory expandability, and undoubtedly more fabric, management and networking special sauce. Sarita is also pin compatible with the 1000 and 2000, meaning hardware design is faster than if a grounds-up new design were architected. Calxeda is off to a good start in this rapidly growing and strategic market. I will be looking forward to hearing about the outcomes of their field trials and rollouts.
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Patrick founded the firm based on his real-world world technology experiences with the understanding of what he wasn’t getting from analysts and consultants. Ten years later, Patrick is ranked #1 among technology industry analysts in terms of “power” (ARInsights)  in “press citations” (Apollo Research). Moorhead is a contributor at Forbes and frequently appears on CNBC. He is a broad-based analyst covering a wide variety of topics including the cloud, enterprise SaaS, collaboration, client computing, and semiconductors. He has 30 years of experience including 15 years of executive experience at high tech companies (NCR, AT&T, Compaq, now HP, and AMD) leading strategy, product management, product marketing, and corporate marketing, including three industry board appointments.