The Future of Server Performance: the Latest on Our Zaius/Barreleye G2 Open Compute-OpenPOWER Server

Barreleye G2 - front panel, lid removed.

Today at the 2017 OpenCompute Summit, Rackspace and Google will put on the first public display of the Open Compute Project-OpenPOWER server platform announced last year, codenamed Zaius and Barreleye G2.

Zaius will double CPU performance and memory capacity, and will quintuple peripheral bandwidth, compared with Rackspace’s prior OpenPOWER system. Advances of this magnitude are increasingly rare. These alone are worth getting excited about, but what’s more significant is how Zaius does what it does.

It represents a major shift in our industry.

Over the last few years, the notion that we’re reaching the limits of Moore’s Law has moved from a fringe idea to mainstream acceptance. Starting in 2018, I believe significant CPU performance gains will become quite rare, and it’s unclear when (or if) they’ll return. Yet there is still demand for more performance. The questions are: what will deliver that performance, and how will it be packaged?

Zaius and OpenPOWER provide some answers. Zaius stands at the inflection point between our industry’s past, which I think of as conventional processing, and its future in specialized processing.

Barrelyeye G2 drive tray
Barreleye G2 – drive bay extended, lid removed.

At the end of Moore’s Law, there are still a few things available to enhance CPU performance, but they are unconventional, and “one-time” in nature. In Zaius, these enhancements come from wide memory buses (8 channel memory controllers on the CPU, 32 DIMM slots), more cores (2x compared to Barreleye G1), large caches and high frequency, high wattage processors. This same trend is playing out with other processors and systems architectures; Zaius and Power9 just go to further extremes. These methods of boosting performance can’t go much further without liquid or cryogenic cooling systems in the datacenter. Think of this as one more boost for conventional applications and datacenters, one last time.

These gains aside, many emerging applications already demand performance that CPUs just don’t deliver. Think of machine learning, big data platforms, real-time analytics and cognitive systems. These technologies are moving beyond niche applications, and beginning to appear as major feature adds in mainstream software that your company probably uses. Zaius meets this demand with high-bandwidth, low latency OpenCAPI and NVLink interfaces for GPGPUs, FPGAs and other specialized processors.

Servers of the future will likely have multiple processing elements attached via high-speed fabrics. Technologies like OpenCAPI are what will make them work together, as well as make them faster and easier to program. Zaius also has PCI-express Gen4, making it practical to put dual-port 100-gigabit network adapters into our servers. There is so much PCI express bandwidth in Zaius that we comfortably fit four of those in one server. By comparison, Barreleye G1 had dual-port 40-gigabit adapters.

These advances demand much more of our power, mechanical and cooling solutions. Zaius and Barreleye G2 address these requirements with 48-volt input, advanced voltage regulation and cooling solutions to match. The Barreleye G2 rack power system delivers the same capacity (30 kilowatts), with about half the physical space, and slightly better efficiency. Advances in IO, storage and specialized processors place new demands on our chassis solutions. Zaius is fit for two Open Rack chassis solutions (Zaius and Barreleye G2). It also fits in 19-inch rack form factors.

For those who value freedom with firmware, the BIOS and BMC are open.

I hope reading about this will inspire you to join us in building the new generation of processor and server technology. For those who want to participate as developers and solution designers, source code and design packages are available on GitHub. We publish updates periodically.

For those who want to participate as consumers, evaluation samples should be available later this year. As with Barreleye G1, we aim to make Zaius and Barreleye G2 commercially available. Expect to see systems available for purchase around the time Power9 processors become generally available.

We look forward to our continued work alongside Google, OpenPOWER, OpenCAPI and other Zaius project members, sharing the benefits with contributors and consumers across the world. Stay tuned.

Aaron Sullivan served as a Distinguished Engineer at Rackspace, focused on infrastructure strategy until 2017.

Aaron joined Rackspace’s Product Development organization in late 2008, in an engineering role, focused on servers, storage, and operating systems. He moved to Rackspace’s Supply Chain/Business Operations organization in 2010, mostly focused on next generation storage and datacenters. He became a Principal Engineer during 2011 and a Director in 2012, supporting a variety of initiatives, including the development and launch of Rackspace’s first Open Compute platforms. His final position was Senior Director and Distinguished Engineer, where he worked on next generation server technology, designing infrastructure for Rackspace’s Product and Practice Areas, and supporting the growth and capabilities of Rackspace’s Global Infrastructure Engineering team. He also represented Rackspace as a public speaker, writer, and commentator.

He was involved with Open Compute since its start at Rackspace. He became formally involved in late 2012. He was Rackspace’s lead for OCP initiatives and platform designs. Aaron served two terms as an OCP Incubation Committee member, and sponsors the Certification & Interoperability (C&I) project workgroup. He supported the C&I workgroup as they built and submitted their first test specifications. He also spent time working with the OCP Foundation on licensing and other strategic initiatives.

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