Alibaba and Huawei join with US tech giants to boost data centre performance

12 March 2019 | Alan Burkitt-Gray

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Nine leading technology companies – two Chinese and seven from the US – have set up a new group designed to improve performance of data centres.

The new group, Compute Express Link (CXL), is intended to accelerate rapidly growing data workloads such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, rich media services, high-performance computing and cloud applications.

“Facebook is excited to join CXL as a founding member to enable and foster a standards-based open accelerator ecosystem for efficient and advanced next generation systems,” said the social media company’s director of technology and strategy, Vijay Rao.

The seven US companies in CXL are Cisco, Dell EMC, Facebook, Google, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Intel and Microsoft.

In a move that is unlikely to be taken well in the White House, the Pentagon or Capitol Hill, their partners are Alibaba, the Chinese web services giant, and Huawei, the equipment and data centre company.

Huawei is at the centre of a huge dispute with the US government, which the Chinese company is suing. But such alliances in the tech world are not unusual. For example, Huawei, its Chinese rival ZTE and China Mobile are members of the Open Networking Automation Platform (ONAP); the fourth member is AT&T, which is not allowed to buy telecoms kit from Huawei or ZTE.

Unlike ONAP, which has two carrier members, AT&T and China Mobile, CXL is entirely a project of the vendor community.

The first version of its specification is intended “to address growing high-performance CPU-to-device, interconnect needs and provide improved memory coherency for higher performance of data-intensive applications”.

Mark Potter, CTO of HPE CTO and director of Hewlett Packard Labs, said: “We applaud Intel for opening up the interface to the processor.”

At Intel, Jim Pappas, director of technology initiatives, said: “CXL is an important milestone for data-centric computing, and will be a foundational standard for an open, dynamic accelerator ecosystem.”

Zhang Xiaohua, general manager of Huawei’s intelligent computing business unit, said: “Huawei’s intelligent computing products which incorporate Huawei’s chip, acceleration components and intelligent management together with innovative optimised system design, can deliver end-to-end solutions which significantly improve the rollout and system efficiency of data centres.”

CXL – which is based at a management services company in Oregon – is looking for new members and says its specifications will be open only to members. The new-born organisation said it is “in the process of incorporation as an open standard body and is actively soliciting interest from potential member companies and institutions”.

It added: “The new open standard will help foster an open accelerator ecosystem for high performance, heterogeneous computing. Interested member companies and institutions are encouraged to join.”