Cavium ThunderX2 Test System Overview
The Cavium ThunderX2 development system we used is a Gigabyte R281-T90. We received word that the version shipping in June will be the R281-T91. We still wanted to discuss why x86 users will have no problem with these form factors.
As you can see, the front is wired for SAS3/ SATA drives, but there are also four U.2 NVMe drive bays. This adds to the usefulness of ThunderX2 since it is comparable to many x86 platforms.
Internally, we removed the airflow baffle so you can see the important parts. There are 16x DDR4 DIMM slots providing 8 channel DDR4-2666 to each CPU. There is also an array of expansion slots at the rear of the unit and redundant power supplies.
This is a similar design to Gigabyte’s current-generation Intel Xeon Scalable systems, one that we will be reviewing soon. Here is the Gigabyte sourced Cavium ThunderX2 development system atop a current generation Gigabyte Intel Xeon Scalable server in our racks. They are largely identical except that the ThunderX2 system has four U.2 NVMe slots (and coincidentally more PCIe lanes):
Moving to the rear, you can see that the networking is configured a bit differently between the two systems, however, the ThunderX2 here has an OCP networking mezzanine card a SAS3 controller, and two additional NICs installed.
Overall, from a hardware perspective, the Cavium ThunderX2 platforms from Gigabyte have progressed and there are new vendors such as HPE, Cray, Inventec, and others announcing ThunderX2 systems.
The importance of having a real server platform cannot be underestimated. With the full server platform, you get features such as out-of-band IPMI management and a web GUI that integrates into existing server workflows.
The importance of these features should not be underestimated. If Arm is going to become a serious alternative to x86 in the data center, for the time being, it means integrating into existing infrastructure. These are features that small development boards simply lack yet they are essential for adoption.
Next, we are going to look at Cavium ThunderX2 v. Intel Xeon and AMD EPYC topologies to see the impact.