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Mr. Fumitaka Shiraishi and Mr. Masahisa Kojima

 Socionext is a semiconductor vendor that was created in March 2015 by integrating Fujitsu and Panasonic’s system LSI business. Of course, the company focuses on the development/sale of System LSI (SoC: System on a Chip). But that’s not all. In the last few years, effort has especially been put into providing solutions. By putting oneself in the position of user who adopts system LSI, Socionext will propose system LSI by preparing boards and modules using the company’s system LSI. In addition, it is also aiming for "independence of solution" that sells the solution itself.

 Today, the company is working on the development of the solution “SynQuacer” for servers equipped with its own multicore processor. Specifically, it provides a software development environment compliant with 96Boards Enterprise specification formulated by a non-profit organization “Linaro” that develops the Linux kernel for ARM. Today, in addition to details about SynQuacer, we talked to Mr. Fumitaka Shiraishi from socionext’s EPS Division SynQuacer Project Business Group, and Mr. Masahisa Kojima from the Development Group about the development history and characteristics of software development environments.
(Interviewer: Technical Journalist = Katsumi Yamashita)

First, tell us about “SynQuacer”

Shiraishi: SynQuacer is a solution for servers.
The basic concept is to increase computing performance per power consumption, that is, power supply efficiency.

 For example, CPUs for servers provided by Intel are extremely high performance, but there are very few jobs that maximize the use of that CPU. In other words, there are many cases where very small jobs are handled using one high-performance CPU. This lowers the power efficiency.

 We want to increase power efficiency as much as possible. Therefore, we used a method where we arranged several small cores and process the necessary cores according to the job. With this method, power efficiency can be greatly improved.

What are these small cores?

Shiraishi: ARM’s 64-bit core “Cortex A-53” was used for the small core. ARM’s 64-bit core was used because of its incredibly high power efficiency.

How many small cores are integrated in one chip (processor)?

Figure 1: Multi-core processor and SoC switch
The product specifications of the multicore processor “SC2A11” integrated with 24 Cortex-A53 cores and the SoC switch “SC2A20” equipped with 9 channels of PCI Express Gen2 x4 lanes

Shiraishi: In the developed multi-core processor “SC2A11”, 24 Cortex A-53 cores were integrated (Figure 1). The operating frequency is 1GHz. Power consumption is a low 5W.

What kind of applications was the multi-core processor developed for?
How did you picture it would be used?

Shiraishi: We developed the multi-core processor with the purpose of processing parallel processing power efficiently. Also, with the aim of expanding this processor as a standard Linux development platform, we released a software development environment conforming to this main theme of 96Boards Enterprise specification. In addition to this one CPU system, we also have a scalable system that connects up to 64 CPUs with low delay by using a separately developed switch chip.

Total Backup From Linaro

Could you explain the software development environment compliant with 96Boards Enterprise specifications?

Figure 2: SynQuacer E series
A software development environment compliant with 96Boards Enterprise specification. It uses one multi-processor (SC2A11) for the main CPU.

Shiraishi: The product is called the “SynQuacer E Series” (Figure 2). It is a computer that uses one multi-core processor (SC2A11) for the main CPU. The motherboard equipped with SC2A11, also has DDR4 memory, and an I/O interface. In addition to this, the development environment comes with “MicroATX” compliant case and power supply unit.

It looks like a PC.

Shiraishi: You can think of it as a PC with a main CPU using the ARM architecture.

Who are the target users for this development environment?

Shiraishi: Arm and Linux software developers all around the world.

Kojima: The SynQuacer E series is an ARM architecture based native software development environment aimed towards those developers.

 Until now, when developing Linux software based on the ARM architecture, an Intel processor-based server was used and then the develop software was cross-compiled to confirm whether it operated or not. There were a lot of trouble with this and it took time. However, by using the SynQuacer E series, high-speed native compilation was possible because it uses a 24-core CPU with ARM architecture. Therefore, because the operation check can be executed immediately, the development time can be greatly shortened.

How is it connected to Linaro?

Kojima: Linaro is an international organization that develops software optimized for the CPU core adopting the ARM architecture. To develop and evaluate software for ARM servers, expensive and large rack servers were necessary until now. With the SynQuacer E series, it can be kept at the hand of developers as a desktop machine which contains ARM core, and allowing them to easily develop software for ARM. It is something Linaro software developers have been waiting for. That is why Socionext can get support from Linaro for this board design, firmware, and software. For the SynQuacer E series, we have prepared the full backup of Linaro. There is a support homepage in Linaro’s site, from which you can download OS images, UEFI (boot loader), Linux distribution etc. Of course, you can obtain other necessary application software from all over the world.

Performance greatly exceeding Raspberry Pi

Compare the processing performance of the SynQuacer E series with competitors’ products.

Figure 3: Number of connectable videos
Zorachka’s benchmark results show that up to 60 cameras can be connected when executing the OS “Errai” for video management systems (VMS) on the SynQuacer E series. With servers under 400 US dollars equipped with Intel’s processor “Celeron J1900” the maximum number connected was 20.

Kojima: When executing the application software “Errai” for video management systems (VMS) on the SynQuacer E series, it is possible to connect up to 60 cameras simultaneously (Figure 3). While, when running on a server of less than 400 US dollars equipped with Intel’s processor “Celeron J1900”, only 20 could be connected. In other words, the number of cameras that the SynQuacer E series can connect to is about three times as many.

Raspberry Pi is also a small computer equipped with a main CPU using ARM architecture.
What are the merits when compared with Raspberry Pi!

Shiraishi: Compared to Raspberry Pi, the SynQuacer E series has three major advantages. The first is high processing performance. The SynQuacer E series has 24-core configuration, but the Raspberry Pi is only 4-core configuration. Which is why the Synquacer E series is simply 6 times faster. For example, when compiling the kernel, with the SynQuancer E series it will be completed in 10 minutes, but with Raspberry Pi it will take over 1 hour. It can probably be used as an ARM native build machine.

 The second is rich input/output interface. Because the SynQuacer E series is equipped with PCI Express, Serial ATA, USB etc., it can handle various usage. The third is that it has a 300W output power supply unit. It is also possible to supply up to 1A of current via the USB interface.

What sort of applications are the target for software developed using the SynQuacer E series?

Figure 4: Aimed at IoT edge equipment

Shiraishi: First, we are thinking about image processing applications that are easy to parallelize. Also, for the equipment that runs the applications, we think edge equipment are optimal rather than IoT system sensor devices or cloud devices (Figure 4). For example, you can think about using it in convenience store surveillance video system edge servers. Install several cameras in the four corners of the store and collect the images taken on the edge server and execute relatively simple process and sending those results to the cloud. It can be handled by increasing the number of CPUs according to the number of cameras you are connecting and the processing details, and if each CPU needs to communicate with a low delay, a scalable system can be constructed by using the aforementioned switch chip. This SynQuacer E-series is targetting for estimation of Cortex A-53 performance/power and/or software design in advance of ASIC development, also targetting for being used as build machine during application software development for server.