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Monday, September 10, 2012
New Intel Server Chips To Integrate Fabric Controller

Intel on Monday confirmed it has been developing a next-generation interconnect it will integrate in future Xeon and Atom server processors addressing a range of uses from supercomputers to microservers.

Interconnects or fabrics, are key to linking thousands of processors in a broad range of servers. They are used in supercomputers or cloud computing data centers and microservers.

Fabric controllers currently sit outside the processor. Intel will integrate a converged fabric controller inside future server chips at the transistor level. This will will make server communication faster while helping data centers operate at peak efficiency, said Raj Hazra, vice president of the Intel Architecture Group. Fabric virtualizes I/O and ties together storage and networking in data centers, and an integrated controller will provide a wider pipe to scale performance across distributed computing environments. In addition, an integrated controller reduces the amount of energy burned in fetching data from the processor and memory.

The fabric controller will also appear in Xeon, Xeon Phi and Atom processors geared for servers in a few years, Hazra said. He continued saying that the controller will offer bandwidth of more than 100 gigabytes per second, which is faster than the speed offered by today's networking and I/O interfaces. Intel's upcoming chips have enough transistors to accommodate the controllers, which will only add a few watts of power draw, Hazra said.

Intel so far has integrated the memory controller and graphics processor into the processor. Integrating a fabric controller is the next step. Intel is moving into interconbnects by taking advantage of the assets the company has with its recent acquisitions: In April, Intel bought an interconnect group from Cray for $140 million. In January, it acquired the Infiniband chip business of QLogic for $125 million, and in July 2011 it bought Fulcrum for an undisclosed sum.

Intel's rival AMD has also bought its own fabric technology acquired from SeaMicro, a server company it purchased this year. AMD plans to put the fabric, called Freedom Fabric, in products ranging from dense servers to supercomputers. AMD is expected to try to make that interconnect an industry standard for its server CPUs, and probably those of emerging ARM-based server SoCs.

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