Computer Electronics

Startup Leverages ARM, Adapteva for Server Entry

03 February 2014

Rex Computing Inc. has produced a prototype server blade based on ARM-based processors and many-core Epiphany processors from Adapteva Inc. (Lexington. Mass.). The prototype was on display at the Facebook-organized Open Compute Project Summit held recently in San Jose, Calif.

The system provides 16 compute nodes based on the Parallella credit card sized board that is sold by Adapteva for $99. Each node contains a dual-core Cortex-A9 Xilinx Zynq ARM processor with an integrated FPGA and an Adapteva Epiphany III coprocessor.

But more interesting than the server blade may be the young CEO behind it. Rex was founded in 2013 by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers Thomas Sohmers and Kurt Keville after several years of R&D working on ARM and other low-power cluster computing systems. CEO Sohmers is 17 years old, is a high-school drop out and, prior to forming Rex Computing had been working in Keville's research lab at MIT.

In 2011 Sohmers joined the 20 Under 20 Thiel Fellowship formed by Peter Thiel, a former CEO of PayPal and early investor in Facebook. which brings with it $100,000 of seed funding together with mentoring and support. And in 2013, fresh from that experience Sohmers and Keville formed Rex Computing with the idea of capitalizing on several years of R&D working on ARM and other low-power cluster computing systems. Rex now plans to bring that technology to servers, mainframes, and supercomputers, while focusing on energy efficiency, cost and scalability.

With the urgency of youth Sohmers has opted not to re-invent the wheel but use what is already available.

The Epiphany III coprocessor on the Parallella board includes 16 floating-point capable 32-bit cores and is implemented in 65nm CMOS. Each compute node consumes less than 5 watts of electricity, with the Epiphany coprocessor alone consuming 2 watts while delivering over 30 GFLOPs of performance, Rex computing said. The full blade uses less than 150 watts of power, contains 32 ARM Cortex-A9 cores, 256 Epiphany cores, and fits in the 20-U tall and one-third conventional server blade width Torpedo server chassis of the Open Compute Project's defined standards.

The Adapteva-based server blade is being used to develop the software for future Rex server systems. In the future Rex Computing expects to deploy more Epiphany cores with fewer, but more powerful ARM cores.

Future product plans include the use of the 64-core Epiphany IV coprocessor, allowing up to 4096 Epiphany cores per server blade. Multiple blades can then be networked together in a rack, and then throughout a datacenter. The Epiphany IV is being implemented in 28nm bulk planar CMOS manufacturing process technology and offers up to 800-MHz clock frequency. Beyond that it is expected that Rex will deploy the Epiphany V processor, Adapteva's first 64-bit co-processor alongside an ARM-based 64-bit host.

"Thanks to developments like the Open Compute Project, a nimble startup like Rex can innovate in key areas without reinventing the wheel. We can keep our costs low without having to worry about designing a new form factor, confident that we have access to the best data center components and designs already known by our customers," said Sohmers, CEO of Rex.

Rex's use of other company's engineering, initially the Parallella board from Adapteva, provides a low-cost entry into the server computer space and may provide an advantage over other more proprietary approaches. Another ARM-oriented server company Calxeda Inc. (Austin, Texas) recently closed after fiver years developing its own ARM-based processors and receiving more than $100 million since its formation in 2008.

Related links and articles:

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