Jeff Wittich, Senior Vice President of Products
No one could have predicted what 2020 would hold for the world. Offices were shut down, travel became virtually non-existent, and video calls became our daily routine. The world may have stood still in many ways, but Ampere® never stopped. Our 2020 vision was clear and we didn’t falter from our original plan since we launched the company: to enable the modern cloud. As we approach the new year, the time has never been better to say, “Out with the old (30 year-old server processor technology), in with the new (true cloud-native processing).”
A Year in Review
2020 started out as expected as we prepared for our annual presence at the OCP Global Summit. When a shelter in place was put into effect and the event cancelled, Ampere adapted quickly and didn’t miss a beat. In fact, with the world now working, learning, shopping, and living virtually, the need for a modern cloud to handle all this data was never greater. The timing was perfect to launch the first cloud-native processor and Ampere did just that with the introduction of Ampere® Altra™, a new class of CPU delivering predictable high performance, extreme scalability, and leading power efficiency. Some of the key highlights of this new server architecture include:
- • Top-end performance with highest performance/watt in a server class CPU
- • Industry-leading 80 cores per CPU (with up to 2 CPUs per server) for hyperscale data centers
- • Open source hardware and software across the platform
Three months later, we upped the ante with the announcement of Ampere Altra® Max™, expanding the processor architecture to 128 cores. Compatible with the 80-core Ampere Altra, Altra Max is also supported by the same 1 and 2-socket platforms. At a time when server processing power is needed the most, the Ampere Altra Max offers the industry’s highest socket-level performance and I/O scalability. We also unveiled further roadmap details and, in keeping with our commitment to deliver an annual cadence of new products, announced the tape-out of a 5nm test chip for internal validation of future technologies, key building blocks for achieving our vision to build the processors that will enable the modern cloud.
Predictable performance has been a priority for Ampere. Since a highly efficient and elastic cloud computing environment is fundamentally different from the traditional enterprise setting, it demands a CPU that can deliver consistent, predictable and maximum performance at all times — a processor built for the cloud and for cloud-native applications.
Reducing frequency when core utilization increases is not desired, and frequency must be consistent across workloads and users. To achieve this, Ampere Altra runs at Max frequency even while all cores are active and also does so across the vast spectrum of cloud workloads, ensuring predictable performance with optimal latency, avoiding tails which can cause service delays for customers.
We also design our CPUs with cores that deliver maximum performance with a single thread per core, avoiding simultaneous multithreading (SMT), which many enterprise-class processors use to split a single physical core into two threads, represented as “logical cores” that are capable of simultaneously executing separate instruction sequences. It is a technique that can increase utilization of the execution resources of an inefficient CPU, but its value decreases as the system is optimized and as software better utilize resources.
The bottom line is that SMT creates more problems than it solves, especially in the cloud. By sharing physical resources within the core, it inherently results in more performance variation as the threads interrupt each other during execution and it opens up security exploits such as side channel attacks, which could compromise user data.
While we are proud of Ampere Altra’s performance, recent third-party reviews confirm Altra’s performance and power-efficiency advantages.
- • AnandTech said, “with one fell swoop Ampere managed to position itself as a top competitor in the server CPU market.” Ampere Altra surpassed the competition on the industry standard SPECint benchmark, demonstrating that it is a true “Performance Monster.”
- • Phoronix ran their suite of application tests and concluded that “it’s easy to call Ampere’s Altra the best Arm Linux server platform I’ve seen to date.” “The performance exceeded my expectations where the Ampere Altra was able to collect wins in not only the performance-per-Watt but in the raw performance as well.”
- • Serve the Home(STH) noted the design flexibility, stating it was the most forward-looking design and the most significant Arm server to date. Even more exciting, STH awarded the Ampere Altra platform with the rarely given STH Editor’s Choice Award. They also demonstrated that it outperforms the competition in multiple benchmarks around web hosting and database. This is the first Arm server they have seen with a wide-scale deployable solution.
Across the board, Ampere Altra in the 2-socket Mt. Jade platform from Wiwynn ran flawlessly out of the box with support from Linux distributions like CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu, and Oracle Linux. Ampere Altra is SBSA Level 4 compliant and the Mt. Jade Platform was the first platform in the world certified as Arm SystemReady SR v2.0, which means it will run standard operating systems, hypervisors, and software right out of the box. Plus, all of the performance results were measured using standard open source compilers like GCC without special hand tuning so they can be easily replicated in the real world.
What a year. The Ampere team continues to innovate at a rate not seen before in the processor industry. Available since summer, Ampere Altra is shipping in volume. With Ampere Altra Max sampling already under way, the modern cloud is becoming a reality. Finally, we have the perfect software and hardware on which to run it.
In my next blog, I will discuss the progress we are making in bringing hardware and software together through the incredible support from partners and customers, as well as our work in embracing the open source community.