STH Server Spider: Wiwynn Mt. Jade
In the second half of 2018, we introduced the STH Server Spider as a quick reference to where a server system’s aptitude lies. Our goal is to start giving a quick visual depiction of the types of parameters that a server is targeted at.
All of the expandability of the platform makes this surprisingly versatile. Going into this review cycle, my expectation was that we would find a solid CPU, but there would be some challenges on the platform side. Wiwynn did a great job with this platform exposing a high-level of connectivity which makes the server itself extremely configurable. It is not the densest configuration since it is a 2U single node server, but there is a lot going on in this machine.
STH Editor’s Choice Award
For a long time, we have been resistant to give awards. There are a number of sites that give virtually every product an award. At STH, we started giving out the STH Editor’s Choice Award in 2019 in the site’s 10th year. We wanted the award to be exclusive. Instead of giving every product the award, our goal was to hand out the award no more than once per month. After we gave out four awards in the first 10 months, we re-set our target to four Editor’s Choice awards a year.
STH Editor’s Choice Award Process
We do not have a fixed set of criteria for giving the award. Instead, we look at the gravitas of a product. That means we look for combinations of unique features such as:
- Market impact
- Excellence in engineering
- Extreme value compared to other offerings
Perhaps the biggest indicator is whether we use, or plan to use the products regularly in our environments. If we feel that we could not do without a product as the site that has a data center lab, then it must be doing something right.
To get an STH Editor’s Choice Award, the reviewer of a product must nominate it for the award. Our Editor-in-Chief must then consult with the reviewer, and decide that the product being considered has the appropriate market gravitas to receive the award. Since I am reviewing this myself, I spoke to John who handles many of our CPU reviews, and consulted on the decision to bestow this award.
After two years, this is now the sixth time we have given a product the Editor’s Choice award. The Wiwynn Mt. Jade platform with the Ampere Altra CPUs has effectively reset expectations in this space. Wiwynn is a vendor that has taken its knowledge of hyper-scale needs and applied it to an emerging platform from Ampere. The result is, by far, the most deployable Arm server to date. With previous generations of Arm servers, we have dubbed them development platforms and small scale deployment platforms, Wiwynn has a package that we can see being deployed on a larger scale. Given that the Wiwynn and Ampere teams have taken a new class of server to a new class of deployment we think that this is a platform poised to have a market impact as some of the pre-production portions are changed to their production counterparts.
The Wiwynn Mt. Jade platform absolutely was an upside surprise we were not expecting. After 4-5 years of working with Arm servers, this is the first server to provide what we can see as a wide-scale deployable solution. The fact that we are getting that experience in a slightly pre-GA platform is awesome.
Wiwynn has taken a bold move by adopting the Ampere Altra platform, and it seems to be paying off. The Arm Neoverse N1 cores perform well, and simply having a lot of them helps when moving to a more macro scale. We were not comparing a 32-core ThunderX2 to a Xeon Platinum 8180 years ago, but we are comparing the 80-core Altra to the best AMD has to offer. Both are ahead of Intel at this point.
Perhaps the biggest impact is on the market. There are still segments that the Ampere Altra cannot touch today. For example, if you want to run a well-supported VMware or Microsoft Windows (non-internal) platform, you are going to want x86. That will change over time. Likewise, for supported applications that are designed for x86, running them on Arm for the time being may be a challenge. We can see organizations that want to keep uniform configurations for existing workloads staying with x86 at this point. Also, Wiwynn does not have the same channel and direct sales reach as a Dell, HPE, or Lenovo which will limit the adoption of systems like the Wiwynn Mt. Jade. Performance is important, but there are other factors that weigh on server markets.
For the broader Linux and open source communities, the message is clear, Ampere is joining AMD as a leader with high core counts, memory channels, and PCIe Gen4 connectivity. Compared to 2016, where there was only Intel Xeon as a valid option, having multiple choices is excellent for competition. All three of these CPUs will see updates in 2021 with the AMD EPYC 7003 “Milan”, Ampere Altra Max, and 3rd Generation Intel Xeon Scalable Ice Lake. Competition drives innovation.
After a long product review, we do have some open items. Our VM workloads are still being updated for the new Arm chips. We also have been adding multi-architecture support to some of our container workloads that did not have them. 2021 will be an exciting time in the server industry. Expect to see the Mt. Jade platform in our full Ampere Altra review after the holiday season.