Extending the ARM architecture
In a move that bolsters its reputation as a provider of low-power, high-performance hardware, networking and server company Cavium has announced a new family of 64-bit ARM-based processors known as ThunderX.
Incorporating up to 48 cores running at up to 2.5GHz and using a custom ARMv8 architecture designed by Cavium from the ground-up, ThunderX is a full system-on-chip (SoC) processor that also includes hundreds of integrated hardware accelerators, impressive I/O capabilities, full virtualisation support and a quad-channel memory controller able to support up to 512GB of DDR3/4 memory running at 2,400MHz. It is perhaps the most potent example of single-SoC ARM-based hardware to date.
Improving performance further, ThunderX SoCs are also designed to be run in dual-socket configurations, with full cache coherency between sockets. Cavium, with its rich history in networking, storage and compute, has designed the scalable ThunderX SoC to fulfil a number of key roles demanded by customers in the server space.
Optimising for core workloads means that four derivatives of the ThunderX are to be sampled to customers later on this year, with full production likely in early 2015.
Multiple ThunderX SoCs
Designed for compute, ThunderX_CP is aimed at web servers, content delivery, web caching and social media data analytics. ThunderX_ST, meanwhile, is primed for storage, primaril optimised for Hadoop, and features a number of 10/40 GbE and SATA3 controllers as well as PCIe Gen3 ports for expansion. Baked-in hardware accelerators take care of data protection, integrity and security.
ThunderX_NT has the same basic topology as ThunderX_ST but its hardware accelerators are geared towards networking, with support for high packet throughput processing, network virtualisation and data monitoring. This family is optimised for media servers and scale-out embedded applications.
Last but not least, ThunderX_SC, aimed towards users looking for secure computing, has Cavium's own NITROX and TurboDPI technology with acceleration for IPSec, SSL, antivirus, antimalware, firewall and DPI. This family is optimised for secure web frontend and security appliances.
The four ThunderX SoCs all support up to 48 cores though Cavium will also build eight- and 16-core versions that have stripped-down connectivity, controllers and performance, ostensibly for companies that want lower-cost alternatives to the fully-fledged parts.
Based on a 28nm process and built by GlobalFoundries, ThunderX SoCs, based on exact configurations, will range from 20W to 90W TDP . Interest in low-cost, energy-efficient, and workload-optimised servers has gathered pace since companies such as Facebook and Google have identified a real need for application-specific processing.
Cavium has shown what is possible with a well-designed, cutting edge implementation of ARM-based technology. Putting forth the argument that custom-designed ARM cores allied to specific hardware accelerators are the way forward, expect to see significant traction in 2015.