Rack Scale Architecture: A Foundation for the next-generation software defined data center

Jay Kyathsandra is the product marketing manager for Intel Rack Scale Architecture.

For years, people have been talking about the potential of rack scale architecture (RSA), a logical architecture with pooled and disaggregated computing, networking and storage resources with software that enables composing usage specific system.  Key motivation of RSA is to increase data center flexibility, enable greater utilization of assets, and drive down the total cost of ownership for IT infrastructure. Today, the talk is turning to action.

We now have a functioning Intel RSA prototype solution and a well-defined path forward toward the day of RSA adoption. At Intel, we are working on a complete reference architecture that will allow a range of implementation choices for OEM providers and organizations that want to build their own RSA solutions.

I am in Shenzhen China this week talking to our customers and partners about rack level innovation at IDF Shenzhen.  Intel is working closely as a technical advisor to Project Scorpio which is a collaborative effort between Tencent, Alibaba, Baidu and China Telecom to develop the next generation rack scale architecture.  Intel is also collaborating with several key end users and system builders in China to build an RSA solution that meets local needs.

The case for RSA

So why is RSA enjoying so much momentum? Through its ability to disaggregate the components of the server rack, RSA provides the foundation for software-defined infrastructure (SDI) and the next-generation data center.

In this new era for the data center, the server, storage, and networking components in a rack are turned into a set of pooled and disaggregated resources. Hardware attributes are exposed upward to a software layer, where provisioning takes place. The software composes a system based on the requirements of a specific application or service definition. SDI is very much a world where the application defines the system.

Among other benefits, disaggregation will help data center operators increase the flexibility of IT infrastructure, improve asset utilization rates, and reduce TCO.  Much of the market is motivated by the success of the mega data center operators, who are driven by the need for hyper efficiency, performance and flexibility which enables agile service delivery at the lowest possible total cost of ownership.

Enterprises want to leverage public cloud operator efficiencies but in a completely different application and requirements environment.  The disaggregated data center will help them achieve capital efficiencies and, more importantly, enable the real-time matching of the infrastructure to meet the requirements of dynamic workloads and applications.

The elements of RSA

At the hardware layer, the Intel Rack Scale Architecture has four main pieces: Flexible compute nodes, POD (multiple racks) wide storage, low latency high bandwidth Ethernet fabric and modular POD management.

Intel Rack Scale Architecture will include a suite of innovative technologies based on Intel® Xeon® processors and the Intel® Atom™ system-on-chip (SoC) processors. These components will power servers, storage, and networking in the disaggregated rack. Intel Ethernet switch silicon will enable distributed input/output.

In addition, Intel Rack Scale Architecture will include the new Intel photonic architecture, based on high-bandwidth, Intel® Silicon Photonics Technology. Compared to today’s copper-based interconnects, this technology enables fewer cables, increased bandwidth, farther reach and extreme power efficiency.

At the management and provisioning layer, Intel RSA incorporates firmware, APIs, and software to access the pooled resources across multi-vendor systems, manage the logical assets, enable IT orchestration and SDI solutions.

Moving forward

We’re at the point where people are excited about the concept of RSA.  Now the focus is shifting to what it will take to leverage this new approach to the data center. We have demonstrated a prototype solution. The next step is to put a complete reference architecture in place, so a broad range OEMs and end user data centers can get down to the business of building and implementing RSA solutions.