Saturday, December 05, 2009

Too cheap to virtualize? Intel's data center on a chip and the Carnegie-Mellon FAWN project

We discuss the evolution of server hardware configurations, and we may be witnessing the start of the next chapter.

Just as virtual servers -- which share processors -- are becoming popular, we see the cost of processors shrinking to the point where they may not be worth sharing. Intel has demonstrated a 48-processor chip which includes shared memory and an on-chip network connecting the processors. The power/speed trade off can also be adjusted under program control. As Intel says, they are working toward a "data center on a chip."

The FAWN project (fast array of wimpy nodes) at Carnegie Mellon University is prototyping this approach, and they say the results are promising. Preliminary results with FAWNs indicate that they are cost competitive with conventional architectures, but consume 3-10 times less power. Power consumption is a large and growing portion of data center cost.