Huawei unveils Kunpeng 920 CPU and TaiShan servers for Arm datacenter use at CES 2019

Arm's future in the datacenter is being solidified with Huawei introducing Arm powered server-class products, competing with Cavium, Qualcomm, and Amazon.

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At CES 2019 in Las Vegas, embattled Chinese hardware manufacturer Huawei announced the Kunpeng 920 CPU--which uses the Arm instruction set--and three TaiShan server models employing the newly-announced Arm CPU. This puts Huawei in competition with Cavium and Qualcomm, producers of the ThunderX2 and Centriq Arm server processors, respectively, and with Amazon's Graviton CPU, which is only available as part of the EC2 offering on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

The Kunpeng 920 is an ARMv8 design with 64 cores at 2.6 GHz per core, with an 8-channel DDR4 interface and two 100G RoCE ports for networking, as well as PCIe 4.0 and CCIX interfaces, according to Huawei. The company claims that the Kunpeng 920 "significantly improves processor performance by optimizing branch prediction algorithms, increasing the number of OP units, and improving the memory subsystem architecture," according to a press release.

The mention of branch prediction algorithms should give security professionals pause, considering the role those played in the Spectre and Meltdown vulnerabilities that dominated 2018. If Huawei is deploying custom branching methods in CPUs, these should be thoroughly vetted by security researchers to ensure they are not susceptible to similar transient execution attacks.

SEE: CES 2019 news, photos, videos, and more (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Huawei's TaiShan server series debuted in conjunction with the Kunpeng 920, and is available in three variants. One focuses on storage, the second on high density, and a third option attempts to balance the two. Huawei claims in a press release that "in big data scenarios, the TaiShan servers are tuned for optimal many-core high concurrency and resource scheduling to deliver a 20% computing performance boost." Huawei also plans to offer the hardware as part of Huawei Cloud offerings, which are locally competitive in China, though have seen limited uptake outside the country.

Though no benchmarks are available, based on specifications alone, the Kunpeng 920 should easily outperform Amazon's Graviton CPU, which was announced in November 2018. Amazon does not publish exact specifications of hardware used in AWS, generally, though Graviton CPUs are understood to operate at 2.3 GHz with 16 cores, using 2015-era Cortex-A72 designs.

Huawei is currently embroiled in political controversy regarding the arrest of CFO Meng Wanzhou in Canada under accusations of "misleading multinational banks about Iran-linked transactions, putting the banks at risk of violating US sanctions," according to our sister site ZDNet. It is also facing bans in New Zealand, Australia, a likely ban in Japan, and a ban for government installations in the US, plus pressure from US officials on domestic mobile network operators and foreign governments to boycott the company's products. In other words, it's unlikely that these products will achieve significant adoption in the West.

That said, Huawei's new products will have an ecosystem effect, as more attention is paid to improving performance for server applications on Arm. The Arm instruction set does not offer binary compatibility with programs compiled for x86-64. Though most programs can be compiled seamlessly without needing to change code, differences between architectures may result in reduced performance. Some of this can be achieved with updates to compilers-Cavium's Surya Hotha told TechRepublic last year at Computex that "...optimizations are still underway. We're working very closely with ARM to get the optimizations done on the gcc front, and the ARM compiler," which will increase performance as these optimizations produce more efficient binaries.

The big takeaways for tech leaders:

  • Kunpeng 920 is an ARMv8 design with 64 cores at 2.6 GHz per core, with an 8-channel DDR4 interface and two 100G RoCE ports for networking, plus PCIe 4.0 and CCIX interfaces.
  • Huawei's political circumstances make it unlikely for these products to gain market share in the West, though will have a positive effect on the Arm for servers ecosystem, as more attention is paid to optimization.

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