HPE goes Arm in mainstream servers


Marvell was getting set to launch the “Triton” ThunderX3 follow-on and then, as 2020 came to a close, Marvell spiked ThunderX3 like Broadcom spiked ThunderX2, and this time, no one picked up the pieces. Although there were some rumors that Microsoft might do it at around the same time.

And then, a little more than two years later, Microsoft tapped Ampere Computing as its Arm server chip supplier. We did a thorough analysis of the Altra instances running on the Azure cloud, and calculated they are delivering somewhere between a quarter to a third better price/performance than instances based on the AMD “Milan” Epyc 7003 processors on Azure. And for all of the reasons that we have discussed in the past about the Altra line of chips, and mainly because it is a chip aimed at hyperscalers and clouds and cloud native workloads that perform more consistently on a core with a set clock speed and no simultaneous multithreading, HPE is adding the Altra chips to its mainstream ProLiant machines.

(An aside: As we have discussed here in the past, HPE is also an enthusiastic supporter of Fujitsu’s A64FX Arm processor, designed with big fat vector math units and used in the “Fugaku” supercomputer at RIKEN Lab in Japan, which is has added to its Apollo 80 systems.)

It is that deterministic performance and that price/performance that has attracted HPE to the Altra CPUs, and the fact that HPE is not selling this as a special Moonshot type of server, or one of its Cloudline el cheapo hyperscaler boxes, but in a standard ProLiant machine that comes with an iLO or OpenBMC baseboard management controller commonly used in enterprises, shows that HPE is serious.

“HPE and ProLiant have brought 30 years of leadership and innovation in compute in a sea of followers,” explains Neil MacDonald, executive vice president and general manager of the Compute group at HPE. “We’ve been committed deeply to innovation in compute, whether that’s automation management, performance, security, or power efficiency. And this is a very, very natural next step in our journey to bring compute solutions with cloud native silicon to support these emerging markets and out changing customer needs. We’re thrilled to be working with Ampere, who are delivering that next generation compute driven by the cloud for the datacenter, and Ampere is modernizing that core compute for cloud software and cloud workloads.”

There are not a lot of feeds and speeds available for the ProLiant RL300 server, but it is a single socket server in a 1U chassis that has 16 DDR4 memory slots with up to 4 TB of main memory, which is a lot for a single-socket machine. Both the 80-core Altra and 128-core Altra Max chips will plug into the socket of the box, which has three PCI-Express 4.0 slots and two OCP 3.0 slots. The machine has up to two M.2 NVM-Express flash memory sticks and ten small form factor NVM-Express SSDs.

The ProLiant RL300 will be available in the third quarter. Pricing was not divulged, but we presume it will be aggressively priced against ProLiant machines using Intel Xeon SP and AMD Epyc processors – and that in this case, more of the margin will hit HPE’s bottom line than has happened in the past with Xeon SPs.