Intel moves forward on new Avoton microserver chips and rack innovations

Intel (s intc) is just a few months away from production of new chips targeting the microserver market, and more powerful chips for other applications are on the way, Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s data center and connected systems group, is expected to say at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing on Tuesday.

The chip maker wants more developers to try out its products, and to that end it’s opening a cloud innovation center in Beijing where the latest Intel gear will be available for testing and development. Intel is also working on reference architecture to redesign racks and rethink the placement of the elements inside of them in hopes of influencing microserver computing deployments.

Aiming at microservers

While the microserver market might not be huge, it is growing. And Intel needs to play in it, as competition from chip makers using ARM architectures grows.

That’s why Intel is following through with plans to start making power-sipping 22-nanometer Avoton system on chips (SoCs) with billions of transistors in the second half of this year. The “wimpy-core” Avoton chips built with the new Silvermont microarchitecture, announced in June at GigaOM’s Structure 2012 conference in San Francisco, target webscale data center deployments. They will be available for use in Hewlett-Packard’s (s hpq) new Project Moonshot servers.

A Facebook (s fb) spokesman has said the company looks forward to Avoton, as an earlier wimpy-core chip for microservers, code-named Centerton, didn’t appear to be capable of handling the social giant’s workloads. Whether Facebook adopts Avoton or not, Intel will need to be competitive on price in order to gain widespread adoption in microservers, as my colleague Stacey Higginbotham reported in December.

Just a week after Applied Micro started shipping an ARM-based chip that contains networking capability, Intel is expected to announce a chip targeting networking, too. Intel will start production of its 22-nanometer Rangeley SoCs for networking devices in the second half of 2013. Lisa Graff, vice president and general manager of Intel’s data center marketing group, couldn’t provide details on Rangeley beyond the product’s name and basic purpose.

At the same time, Intel has much more experience with brawny cores than wimpy cores. In the fourth quarter of the year, it will produce Ivy Bridge-EX chips in the Xeon E7 family with upgrades boosting memory capacity from around 4 TB to 12 TB. That’s helpful for in-memory databases. “We’ve been working with (SAP) on HANA, and this is exactly what they want — as much memory as we can possibly give them,” Graff said. “They would like (much) more.”

Storage-specific SoCs in the Atom family and Haswell Xeon E3 processors that will go as low as 13 watts are also on the way, Intel plans to say.

Beyond chips

Beside the chip announcements, Intel is showing interest in working with webscale data centers by collaborating with Chinese companies Alibaba, Baidu, China Telecom and Tencent on Project Scorpio to build more efficient server racks for certain types of applications. Intel is developing rack-scale reference architecture that will show a wide variety of options for racks for hyperscale environments that could allow products to emerge from Project Scorpio and the Open Compute Project.

Taken together, the Intel announcements make the company look like it’s keen on staying top of mind for webscale deployments. But competition is more brawny than wimpy, and that’s why Intel needs to keep making its chips do more, use less energy and cost less money.