August 11, 2006 2:23 PM PDT

Linux powers unusual multicore machine

A start-up called Movidis believes a 16-core chip originally designed for networking gear will be a ticket to success in the Linux server market.

Movidis is announcing two new servers using the chip in conjunction with next week's LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in San Francisco. The Revolution x16 models each use a single 500MHz or 600MHz Cavium Networks Octeon CN3860 chip, said Ken Goldsholl, the company's co-founder and chief technology officer.

Movidis server

Sixteen cores is a lot compared with current processors, and multiple cores boost servers by farming different tasks to different parts of the chip. Sun Microsystems' UltraSparc T1 "Niagara" chip has eight cores, while mainstream x86 chips from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices will move from today's dual-core designs to quad-core models within the next year.

But Movidis systems have a major difference from mainstream servers: Their chips use MIPS processor cores, an architecture originally designed by Silicon Graphics. MIPS chips can't run software for major server processors of the x86, Sparc, Power or Itanium ilk.

"I do believe people will take a chance with a different architecture to get other things they need," Goldsholl said.

Another company that tried MIPS servers, Cobalt Networks, dropped the design in favor of x86 chips, and SGI is moving to Intel processors.

With open-source software, though, new versions can be compiled for the chip, and the version of Debian Linux that Cavium supplies with the chip works with the Revolution x16 servers with only minor modifications, Goldsholl said. The company also includes higher-level software such as the Apache Web server and the MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, and supports it all.

Costs for the system range from $3,000 for a 1.75-inch think model with no drives to $12,000 for the 3.5-inch model with the maximum of eight drives, he said.

The Octeon chips consume only 30 watts of power. The overall systems have networking acceleration, eight gigabit Ethernet ports, and hardware-based encryption abilities.

Like Sun's X4500 "Thumper" system, Movidis' products had their genesis as a video-streaming server. But "it was very hard to break into video-on-demand," Goldsholl said. Cable TV companies were "very reluctant to buy from a brand-new small company." He thinks he'll get farther with the general-purpose server market.

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Silicon Graphics Inc., multi-core, networking gear, Linux server, x86 processor

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Don't give SGI the credit...
...for creating the MIPS architecture. It came out of Stanford and was first sold by the independent Mips Computer Systems Inc. in the mid-1980s. Mips generated four generations of chips (R2000, R3000, R6000, R4000) as an independent company and built systems themselves out of them which they sold directly and through partnerships with such companies as Prime, CDC, and Bull; the chips were also used in system designs by Digital and Silicon Graphics, among others. SGI did not buy the company until 1992, and spun them back out around the turn of the century.
Posted by qnetter (3 comments )
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MIPS
The original processors developed by MIPS were great processors, the procs that SGI developed (R10K r12K R14K R16K) were all top performers. On efficiency per clock, the older R1x variants were on par with the Alphas.

I have managed several very large SGI installations, from a 4 processor Origin 200 with 4 180MHz R10Ks upto a very large 512 proc Origin 3000 with R14Ks.

The little O200 would readily smoke anything from SUN or DEC, even with more processors.

The real legacy of the MIPS chips was the fact the true 64bit computing was readily available for anyone to purchase. I should know, I have several SGIs in my collection, from the R4400 powered Indy 2, to the UMA SGI R5K O2, to the R4K base SGI Iris Crimson VGXT graphics supercomputer, to my latest the SGI Tezro with 4 R16Ks. Now, that 64bit perf came with a very large pricetag (Indy2 was $5500).

So, indeed SGI does deserve the credit for the R1X variants, but were built on the legacy of some very talented MIPS engineers.

Unfortunately, people equate SGI with only graphics, which was true upto the release of the Origin 200 and 2000. Sun managed to capture the "business" market, while SGI captured the high pers technical market as well as the ultra high end graphics. Ever been in a CAVE? or to a planetarium run by SGI system? AMAZING.

The 16 core systems are doomed. Intel and SPARC are the dominant players. Those 16 core chips combined with SGI's low latency high performace interconnects, there might be an application within the supercomputer segment. Tie those 16 core chips with SGIs interconnect, along with SGIs RASC (FPGA arrays) systems, that would be a world killer in the supercomp market.

Best industrial design as well.
Posted by ThePenguin (30 comments )
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Cool thing a nice SMP machine on a chip
Really cool.

But am I the only one who wants a SMP-MIPS desktop computer? I could develop software on a rackmount unit, but a low power, small desktop system would be really cool thing.

And, besides that, not only it wouldn't be Microsoft-free, it would be completely Microsoft-proof. That's something every real geek desires.
Posted by rbanffy (31 comments )
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