Intel is one of several companies that have poured $44 billion into Oxide, a startup that aims to change the face of on-premise and cloud servers with a minimalist design.
Oxide’s mission revolved around providing cloud-centric servers for purchase, rather than just rental, for companies primarily concerned with keeping IT infrastructure local. The company combines this approach with co-designing hardware and software that are fit for purpose.
Oxide ships its rack with everything installed in one box, instead of the “rack-and-stack” approach where servers arrive with additional cabling and hardware. The servers do not have hardcoded quotas for switching or routing, where customers can program the switch. The company has also replaced the baseboard management controller with a service processor, which can handle power cycling and remote management of servers.
A bare-bones cloud computer that you can buy
The company first outlined the concept of retooling servers in 2019 and has since developed its own components and software to manage workloads and networks. Servers are normally designed to combine stacks of software and hardware layers that further remove software from chipsets, the company said. But this minimalist approach brings the software much closer to the silicon.
“We felt it was a real shame to make a traditional switch,” says Oxide CTO Bryan Cantrill HPCThread. “x86 is kind of like a colostomy bag on the side of the switch, where you have some kind of low power Xeon D, or whatever, on top of that an Intel Management Engine, and a bunch of stuff that we didn’t want in there.”
Companies like Google, AWS and Meta have built these types of lightweight servers by stripping away parts, but they are not accessible for purchase – only for rent using their services. Companies like Dell and HPE have also not yet developed barebones cloud servers, which is where Oxide hopes to step in.
The system uses AMD EPYC Milan CPUs in compute sleds that also house the memory, storage and networking components. These form the basis for the servers and can even perform tasks such as VM management, where customers no longer have to use software from VMware or OpenStack.