In our Ampere Altra powered Wiwynn Mt. Jade server review, we are going to see why we feel this is the most significant new server of 2020. Wiwynn is far from a household name but it should not be unfamiliar to STH readers. STH got an exclusive tour in Q4 2018 of the company’s headquarters. You can read about that in Where Cloud Servers Come From Visiting Wiwynn in Taipei. Although Wiwynn may not be called out in press releases such as the IDC 3Q20 Server Tracker it counts large cloud providers such as Facebook and Microsoft among its customers and has revenue of almost $6B USD per year the last time we checked. Compared to the traditional vendors IDC puts in their press releases, that would put them above Lenovo on hardware sales revenue, but with far fewer employees. Having the Wiwynn Mt. Jade server platform with the Arm-based Ampere Altra is a big deal. Wiwynn’s business model is not to sell low numbers of servers to customers.
In this review, we are going to look at the platform, and discuss some of the great features and nuances. We are also going to discuss performance, and then we are going to discuss why this is one of the most important platforms to be released in 2020. Even if you are not interested in Arm servers, this review is going to have some insights that go well beyond just the Altra processor and the server itself.
As with many of our new pieces, we are going to have a video version of this article as well.
This is a longer video, and has a lot of commentary around the server, and the market impact. As always, we suggest opening a new browser/ tab to watch it as it is a better experience than the embedded player. Also, likes and channel subscriptions are always welcome.
Ampere Altra Wiwynn Mt. Jade Server Hardware Overview
With our server reviews going into more detail, we now split our hardware overview into two primary sections. The first is that we look at the exterior of the server to get the basic bits that one servicing the server in a rack would most likely notice. We then get into the internal overview to look at some of the configurability and key features of the server.
Ampere Altra Wiwynn Mt. Jade Server External Hardware Overview
Taking a look at the Mt. Jade platform, we can see a fairly typical 2U server layout. This has a single USB port on the left, and a VGA port along with standard power button/ LEDs on the right. The main feature, by far, is storage. There are 24x 2.5″ bays and Wiwynn is leveraging the Ampere Altra platform to deliver one of the most forward-looking designs we have seen to date.
Wiwynn is connecting these 24x drive bays using 6x Amphenol PCIe Gen4 x16 cables. This is not a server designed for SAS/ SATA, instead, the company is leveraging the unique capabilities of the Ampere Altra platform to deliver something decidedly ahead of what many traditional vendors such as Dell, HPE, and Lenovo offer. Here the backplane does not have features such as a SAS expander. Instead, this is a NVMe backplane. One can see the backplanes are held in by thumbscrews, but the impact of Ampere Altra is felt immediately here, this is an all-NVMe design. This design provides Wiwynn the flexibility to swap to a SAS/SATA backplane setup if a customer wishes, but we really like this hardline stance to simplify on a next-generation architecture.
The chassis itself has four of those drive bays (one cable’s worth) that are optionally connected. Although the cable is connected via the backplane here, the other end can be used in a PCIe Gen4 x16 header that can instead provide PCIe connectivity to rear risers. Ampere Altra has many PCIe lanes, but there are limits. Still, Wiwynn’s forward-looking design is moving beyond the limitations of PCB and has configurability on where PCIe lanes are directed. We will see more of this type of design in the PCIe Gen4 era but it will become increasingly commonplace as we move to PCIe Gen5 and beyond. Effectively, with Ampere Altra is providing Wiwynn with a platform that is already incorporating these design principles.
On the rear of the server, we see a fairly standard layout. The rear I/O consists of a VGA port, a management LAN port, a serial port, and two USB 3 ports. There are three blocks for I/O risers, two are full-height and one is low-profile. One can also see an OCP NIC 3.0 slot in the middle of the platform.
The 2kW power supplies seem a bit large for the relatively lower power consumption of the Ampere Arm server chips. The 80Plus Platinum units are likely larger than a normal server of this class simply as this is also a development platform. As a result, people tend to plug a multitude of devices into this type of server. That can include many high-power NVMe SSDs up front, or even accelerators in the rear. We tried the NVIDIA T4 and it worked in this platform.
Part of the purpose of this piece is to show how similar the server is to a modern x86 server since that is a big question when organizations are looking to add Arm into their data centers.
Next, we are going to look at the internals of the server before proceeding with the remainder of our review.