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HP works on memristor-based processors

Posted: 08 Jun 2010     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:memristor  nanostore  processor  data centre 

Ranganathan: We've run some experiments [on nanostore] and found the new approach is a factor of 10 better for the same energy or dollars.

Hewlett-Packard researchers are looking into ways to make their memristor the centerpiece of future server designs. The company has also determined low-power processors, such as those based on ARM cores, are superior for some data centre workloads.

The work at HP Labs is one aspect of an ongoing debate in the industry over whether today's x86-based processors and servers are optimal for a growing set of Internet-hosted applications. If the HP work comes to fruition it could make the world's largest user of semiconductors become less dependent on Intel Corp., the world's biggest chipmaker.

So far, HP's researchers have found different workloads need different kinds of designs, but one overarching concept has become clear. "Re-thinking the balance of computer, storage and communications will happen, and it will have big implications," said Partha Ranganathan, a principal investigator in the exascale data centre project at HP Labs.

One part of that re-balancing act is a new kind of chip HP Labs calls a nanostore. A nanostore is essentially a 3D stack of processor cores married to non-volatile memory cores such as HP's memristors.

The device is designed around the idea that the explosive growth of storage in Internet data centres requires making data the centre of any new server design. In an indication that "data is king," Ranganathan notes that Google has reported the data in its systems has grown sixty-fold in seven years.

"We've run some experiments [on the nanostore concept], and found the new approach is a factor of ten better [performance] for the same energy or dollars," said Ranganathan. "This is early work [in 3D stacks and memristors] so we think we can get factors better [performance]," he said.

It could take five years before nanostore devices are ready for commercial use, Ranganathan said. He plans to publish papers this year on both nanostores and a more near-term idea for a low-power processor board he calls a microblade.

Microblades, snitches
HP Labs has identified three kinds of server designs each optimised for different kinds of data centre workloads. It has also created metrics to match workloads to the right design.

An energy proportional design ramps server performance up or down based on an application's needs. A consolidated design packs multiple jobs into a single system, and a so-called microblade breaks down jobs into tasks that can be handled by multiple low-power processors.

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