In the wake of the success of Raspberry Pi—which is itself spurring interest in Linux—the market for (partially) open single board computers has expanded greatly, with numerous competitors appearing on the market. More "complete" packages, such as the Librem 15 notebook computer and the EOMA68 modular computing project, have gained popularity and secured funding for production through the crowdsourcing website Crowd Supply, a platform which focuses on hardware development projects, and has a very hands-on staff who assist in navigating the logistics of manufacturing and distribution.
That said, these projects are a far cry from performance computing—while suitable for hardware projects or basic desktop computing, these devices are unlikely to win any performance benchmarks. For people needing large amounts of computing power, the Talos Secure Workstation hopes to be the answer to this gap in the market. By using IBM's POWER8 processors, Talos effectively allows for server-class hardware to be shoved into an ATX form factor.
SEE: IBM launches new Linux, Power8, OpenPower systems (ZDNet)
While this is not the first time server-class POWER processors have been used on the desktop, the last commercially available product is the decade-old IBM IntelliStation POWER 285, which used POWER5+. This line was discontinued by IBM in January 2009 amidst a larger move out of hardware (selling assets to Lenovo), and in the middle of budget cuts that surrounded the economic turmoil of the time.
A Second Chance
Unlike other crowdsourced projects, the company behind this project, Raptor Engineering, has been in business since 2009. This is not their first go at trying to crowdsource the funds to produce the Talos Secure Workstation. Last February, their initial campaign was self-hosted, and required 2,000 backers to finance the production run.
This time around, working with Crowd Supply, the minimum number of backers needed is 900. TechRepublic's previous coverage of Talos also detailed the creation of the OpenPOWER Foundation, which was created by IBM to allow third parties to create POWER-compatible hardware. The design of Talos was meant to avoid closed firmware blobs, and Talos is more secure than comparable Intel products due to the lack of Intel's Active Management Technology (AMT) service.
The mainboard and related accessories are offered for $3700 USD. Processors, sold separately, range from $1135 for an 8-core, 3.026 GHz processor, to $3350 for a 12-core 3.226 GHz processor. The "Complete" bundle, with the fastest processor, maximum RAM, a case, two 4TB enterprise SAS disks, an LSI SAS controller, and an AMD FirePro W9100 is $17,600, though this can be exchanged for an NVIDIA Quadro K6000 for an extra $1500.
What Talos can do
The working design of the Talos Secure Workstation includes support for one POWER8 SCM (single chip module), in 8, 10, or 12 core processors at 190W TDP, or 8 or 10 core processors in 130 TDP versions, for a maximum of 96 logical cores on the highest-end available CPU. The board also includes 8 DDR3 slots with ECC, powered by two memory controllers for a maximum 256 GB RAM.
For PCI Express, there are two x16 CAPI-capable slots (configured as 8 shared lanes), four x8 slots, one x1 mPCIe slot, and a single legacy PCI slot. Other ports include ten SATA (6 Gbps, two of which are eSATA), one HDMI port, eight USB 3.0 ports, two Gigabit Ethernet ports, two external and two internal RS232 ports, and one 40-pin GPIO header.
SEE: Power checklist: Vetting employees for security sensitive operations (Tech Pro Research)
Speaking in terms of power (excuse the pun), the POWER8 processors are very competitive with Intel's Xeon series of server processors. The benchmarks posted on Raptor Engineering's website demonstrate this to an extent. For example, POWER8 is about 25% faster at LZ4 compression of a random 128 MB file than is an Intel Xeon E3-1270, though the Xeon is slightly faster in a real-world test of compressing Mozilla. Talos is capable of running various popular Linux distributions, even in Little Endian mode (a historic pain point for older versions of the POWER ISA).
The crowdfunding campaign ends on January 14, 2017 at 11:59 PM UTC.
Do you have a use for high performance workstations in your organization? Do you have security concerns with binary blobs and out-of-band management technologies found in Intel products? Share your thoughts in the comments.
Disclosure: James Sanders is an associate member of the OpenPOWER Foundation.
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James Sanders is a Tokyo-based programmer and technology journalist. Since 2013, he has been a regular contributor to TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research.