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Azul to go 48-core with Vega 2

The startup will double cores on TSMC 90nm process
Mon Mar 27 2006, 21:53
WHILE the X86 world hops from one to two processing cores, startup Azul Systems plans to integrate 48 cores on its second-generation Vega chip, expected next year.

Azul has become one of the hottest young companies in California thanks to its network-attached systems for accelerating Java and other virtual-machine performance.

The first-generation Vega processor it designed has 24 cores but the firm expects to double that level of integration in systems generally available next year with the Vega 2, built on TSMC's 90nm process and squeezing in 812 million transistors. The progress means that Azul's Compute Appliances will offer up to 768-way symmetric multiprocessing.

The scalability is showing is attracting big-name early adopters, including Credit Suisse - and even enough to have Sun Microsystems lawyers hammering at the door, alleging intellectual property infringements. Also, Azul says it is already at work on third- and fourth-generation designs.

How is Azul able to move so fast? Not just through process improvements or lashing cores together, it says.

"We have twice the silicon density available to us [from TSMC] but it's a little different than smashing [the cores] together," said Scott Sellars, Azul chief technology officer.

"It's a truly symmetric 48-way design on a single chip and the thing that differentiates it is scalability up to 16 sockets."

While system performance in the Wintel world often lags behind theoretical microprocessor performance gains, Sellers believes that “it's a safe bet” that actual system performance for the next-generation Azul appliances will be more than twice current speeds thanks to the extra cores, faster clock speeds and new instructions. This, he says, gives Azul a good shot at being chosen over traditional non-uniform memory access (Numa) server architectures for consolidating workloads.

"Numa is very difficult to programme for, and they're not very good consolidation systems because you're going to get very different performance depending on things like the scheduling of the OS," he said.

Azul also put a lot of faith in doing things differently. Sellers was a founder of 3dfx and believes the graphics industry can teach the commodity processor business a thing or two, including the ability to work from small design teams, outsourcing production and using off-the-shelf EDA design tools.

"One thing we learned from the graphics industry is how to get chips out of the door pretty quickly," he says. "In the microprocessor industry it's traditionally been schematics and an army of maybe 500 people drawing and laying out transistors - that gets very inefficient."

One big decision that could be key to Azul's future is the old question of to license or not to license.

Sellers sees an opportunity to have it both ways by licensing in “a very controlled, disciplined way” that could see Azul providing OEM versions of its products or even powering blades. The company has already had talks with potential partners, he said. µ


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