Semi-OT: Alibaba using homegrown ARM CPUs…

now in preview for customers, but in weirdly tiny quantities – 100 total instances for the whole preview audience.

Alibaba Cloud has started accepting requests from customers to preview an instance type powered by the home-grown Arm CPUs it revealed last year.

The Yitian 710 processor boasts 128 Armv9-compatible CPU cores that can operate at up to 3.2 GHz. Eight DDR5 channels and 96 PCIe 5.0 lanes are aboard, accounting for some of the 60 billion transistors on the die, which is fabbed using a 5nm process, we’re told.

Without much fanfare, Alibaba Cloud has revealed it has the silicon ready to fire up in servers in its cloud. The chips are set to power an Elastic Compute Service (ECS) instance type called g8m, which offers variations sporting 1, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64 or 128 vCPUS – and each vCPU corresponds to a physical core.

The invitation-only preview offers just one of these variations: the ecs.g8m.xlarge virtual machine – a rig with 4 vCPUs, 16 GB of memory, and 3 Gbit/sec of network bandwidth (burstable to 10 Gbit/s.) The instances will run the CPU cores at 2.75 GHz – a little less than the speed ceiling for the silicon.

The preview will run for just two months, after which the Yitian-powered instances will disappear. Alibaba Cloud has warned against running production workloads during the trial. Just 100 instances are on offer, and Alibaba says they’re on a first-come-first-served basis. The VMs are hosted in Alibaba’s Hangzhou zone in China.… for background on the CPU, which I think we noted back then. 5nm process.

Named Yitian 710, the processor was built on a 5nm process and boasts 128 Armv9-compatible CPU cores that hum along at up to 3.2GHz. Eight DDR5 channels and 96 PCIe 5.0 lanes are aboard, accounting for some of the 60 billion transistors on the die.

Yitian 710 was billed as a cloud-native processor at Alibaba’s Apsara conference today, but the Chinese cloud leader offered few details beyond those above. From the core density and process node, it’s safe to imagine that TSMC manufactured the parts. It’s not clear whether Alibaba designed its own Armv9 CPU cores from scratch or used one of Arm’s blueprints.

The Register understands Alibaba is very keen to have the Yitian 710 seen in the same light as Amazon Web Services’ Graviton2 server microprocessors – that is, the product of a cloud operator innovating on behalf of customers, and in no way a paranoid or preemptive response to the prospect of US/China trade tensions making it harder to acquire other processors. Alibaba concluded that it needed a chip of this ilk to keep pace with rival clouds, just as it felt the need to build its own Hanguang 800 AI silicon in 2019.

Alibaba Yitian 710 CPU
The Yitian 710. Click to enlarge

Meeting requirements for more efficient operations is another motivator for the roll-your-own approach, and Arm’s power-sipping ways fit the bill. Alibaba doesn’t think it can meet the performance-per-watt numbers it needs with off-the-rack silicon.

The Register understands that the chip has been used in production since July 2021, but only in limited numbers. Some are running in a new server design, dubbed Panjiu, developed to offer more efficiency that off-the-shelf kit Alibaba could find elsewhere. The company says the servers “are optimized for both general-purpose and specialized AI computing, as well as high-performance storage.” Again, the hardware is aimed at cloud-native workloads.

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