Hewlett Packard Enterprise on Tuesday unveiled "The Machine", a new computer prototype that it said could handle more data than any similar system in the world.
HPE's "The Machine" research project aims to create super-fast computers by designing them around memory. The system's memory lets processors share or reserve dedicated banks by passing pointers, avoiding copy operations. The prototype aims to establish a class of memory-driven systems that could be used for a wide range of data-hungry applications from training machine-learning models to real-time monitoring and securing fleets of autonomous vehicles.
The company said the prototype contains 160TB of memory - more than three times the memory capacity of HPE's Superdome X - capable of managing the information from every book in the U.S. Library of Congress five times over. However, the prototype is not close to what the company envisioned with when it first announced the project in 2014. The initial model was supposed to have memristors, a type of memory and storage that could help computers make decisions based on data they retain. HP announced memristor in 2008, but it has been delayed multiple times. The company is now developing technology with Western Digital.
The current Machine prototype runs 1,280 Cavium ARM CPU cores. The memory and 40 32-core ARM chips - broken up into four Apollo 6000 enclosures - are linked via a super fast fabric interconnect. Multiple co-processors can be plugged in this interconnect. The connections are designed in a mesh network so memory and processor nodes can easily communicate with each other. FPGAs provide the controller logic for the interconnect fabric. The system runs on an optimized Linux-based operating system (OS) running on ThunderX2.
In addition, slots in The Machine allow the addition of photonics connectors, which will connect to the new fabric linking up storage, memory, and processors. Actually one of HPE's key innovations in the Machine is a 16-nm photonic communications ASIC. It embeds vertical-cavity surface-emitting lasers (VCSELs) and controllers that HPE helped design. The device is seen as a leading candidate for technologies that HPE could bring into commercial systems in the near-term.
The interconnect itself is an early implementation of the Gen-Z interconnect, which is backed by major hardware, chip, storage, and memory makers.
While HPE is trying to build a new system, Intel is trying to promote its 3D Xpoint storage and memory. System makers will try to build faster computers around Intel's 3D Xpoint-based Optane storage, which the chipmaker says will eventually replace DRAM and SSDs.
HPE expects its model will over time contain more and more memory. While the prototype remains years away from being commercially available, HPE is already bringing some of the tech from its research program to market.