Data center gear has become increasingly important to telcos and mobile operators as they adapt to a more fluid world of virtualization and software. For some of the large equipment vendors, the trend has spurred a new angle of conversation at Mobile World Congress (MWC).
Ericsson, in particular, has used the last couple of MWCs to show off its HDS 8000 rack-scale system. Plenty of products get showcased at MWC, but this one stands out for being an IT play, a big box of servers and storage.
The HDS 8000, in turn, is based on Intel’s Rack-Scale Design (RSD, formerly called Rack-Scale Architecture), a new way of building out the data center. RSD, meant to provide flexible pools of compute and storage for applications to consume, is sold in rack form. Rather than buy more servers to beef up compute, or more disk drives to amp up storage, the customer buys the stuff one rack at a time, with the option to vary the ratio of compute to storage in each rack.
The point isn’t raw capacity. This is a different way to build a data center. Compute and storage are disaggregated from one another and can be scaled independently. Top-of-rack, aggregation, and core switches aren’t necessary; everything is absorbed into RSD’s configurable network fabric, which handles connectivity within the rack and outward to other RSD racks. Silicon photonics connect all the storage and compute elements, with networking connections configured as necessary.
Ericsson’s was the first commercial instantiation of RSD. Dell followed last year by launching the RSD-based DSS 9000, a key product offering of the company’s Extreme Scale Infrastructure group.
Network functions virtualization (NFV) provides incentive, as it means controlling lots of servers to run these virtualized network functions — running a data center, in essence. But there’s another angle that is growing thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT). As IoT threatens to drown out the other noise at MWC (no small feat), it opens the potential need for mobile edge computing, providing another motivation for carriers to get familiar with cutting-edge data center designs.
Building Up from RSD
The HDS 8000 stands out because Ericsson began showing it at MWC long before the product was commercially available. Early versions appeared as early as 2013, when Ericsson showed a prototype at its MWC stand and described the product as a bunch of cloud servers crammed into one box. The formal launch of the HDS 8000 came in 2015.
Some carriers have taken notice. The HDS 8000 scored a customer win with Telefónica at last year’s MWC. Then, in June, Ericsson and SK Telecom used the rack-scale system at the heart of a new technology initiative called Software-Defined Telecommunications Infrastructure (SDTI), aimed at creating hardware that can adapt quickly to network performance requirements. The companies developed SDTI with 5G deployments in mind.
Ericsson isn’t going in alone with the HDS 8000. Quanta is the manufacturer for the system and will also act as a channel partner to offer it to webscale customers.
Pluribus controls the HDS 8000’s switching fabric, and Ericsson also acquired NodePrime for $7 million in April, hoping to apply the company’s data center management capabilities to the HDS 8000.
One interesting note is that Ericsson uses customized silicon photonics rather than Intel’s. Ericsson officials say this is because the precise card it wanted wasn’t commercially available when the HDS 8000 launched.
As for Dell, its ESI group will likely show the DSS 9000 at MWC but will also be discussing data-center architectures at other levels of scale. The company offers a design called the modular data center (MDC), which focuses on an entire data center, and last October, Dell introduced the micro MDC, a smaller data center installation that comes in one to five racks’ worth of gear. Look for Dell to expand on that idea at MWC.