The design and manufacturing of computer chips has been getting more intensive with every generation. As transistor sizes reduce, complexity increases exponentially. This creates an insatiable need for greater computational performance for production workflows.

STMicroelectronics has a constant battle to keep the pace of its data centres up with the demands of its design processes. AMD EPYC processors enabled the company to fulfil all three of its criteria — performance, price, and power consumption — providing much faster chip design delivery to its customers while maintaining sustainability goals.

R&D performance and energy use challenges

“We want to decrease our energy consumption by 150GWh per year and become carbon- neutral by 2027,” says Olivier Joubert, DTIT Senior Infrastructure Architect, STMicroelectronics. “It’s a big challenge for a company with double digit growth for the past few years, as we add new factories, data centres, and increased capacity, so it’s very important that we choose the right data centre server technology.”

Since STMicroelectronics both designs and manufactures semiconductors, it needs data centre computation in three main areas. Each factory has at least two data centres, while the general business IT infrastructure is centralised in both, on-premises data centres and the cloud. But its largest requirement comes from its research and development data centres. “When we halve the size of our semiconductor transistors, the density increases, and we need four times the data storage and compute,” says Olivier.

The largest STMicroelectronics R&D data capacity is in France. Data centres in Italy and India provide the remainder of the processing capability. Improving R&D data centre computational capacity has a real impact on STMicroelectronics’ ability to build newer, more complex chip designs. However, this poses further challenges for the company’s environmental goals. “Sustainability is in the DNA of STMicroelectronics,” says Olivier. “We’ve been in business for 36 years, and we’ve been publishing a sustainability report for 25 of them. We strive to consume less.”

These challenges mean that STMicroelectronics is constantly evaluating new server technologies as they arrive. “We start with the most important thing for us in a server, which is the CPU,” says Olivier. “We have benchmarked all the CPUs for the past 10 years. We always need the fastest processor with the most cores. For a while, there was no competition. But when AMD launched the EPYC processor in 2017, alternatives returned. When a processor has a good result in SPEC CPU benchmarks, we shortlist it for our own testing.”

When the 2nd Gen AMD EPYC processor arrived, STMicroelectronics decided to benchmark it. The performance figures far exceeded the company’s expectations.

Better performance, cost, and power efficiency

“We were really impressed by the result of the benchmark,” says Olivier. “But we had to wait for the 3rd Gen AMD EPYC processor to enable support for our operating system and application stack.”

STMicroelectronics had already begun to use AMD EPYC processors through the Microsoft Azure Cloud, which the company bursts its R&D workloads into heavily when required. “We work closely with Microsoft to ensure they use the same CPU as we do in our data centre.” 

HPE provided servers and CPUs for STMicroelectronics to test in its own data centre.

“The benchmark we’re running for R&D is Electronic Design Automation (EDA) and Computer-Aided Design (CAD),” says Olivier. “With 2nd Gen AMD EPYC processors, we saw 6% more performance than any other CPU on the market. With 3rd Gen AMD EPYC processors, that rose to 12%. We got 25% better value per core for the single-socket CPUs and 30% for the dual socket ones. We also introduced power efficiency tests. The 3rd Gen AMD EPYC reduced consumption per core by 30%. This was the first time we met all three criteria —performance, price, and efficiency — so we started to purchase a lot of 3rd Gen AMD EPYC CPUs.” 

Dependable roadmap to 4th Gen AMD EPYC 

STMicroelectronics began rolling AMD EPYC processors out in its R&D data centres. “We started with R&D because this is the most demanding workload,” says Olivier. “Better performance means faster time to market. Now we can complete a design in much less time. We’re able to design a chip faster and run more designs in parallel than before.”

This is particularly valuable for industries where semiconductor designs are evolving fast, such as automotive Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) or communications networking. STMicroelectronics replaces its R&D data centre servers every 27 months on a rolling basis, so is continually increasing its AMD EPYC fleet. By the end of May, it had deployed 550 single-socket HPE servers powered by 64-core 3rd Gen AMD EPYC CPUs in its data centre, and since then the total has exceeded 1,000 CPUs, with many thousands in use via Microsoft Azure as well.

The company has also been able to fulfil its sustainability goals. The increasing energy consumption of core-dense server CPUs is offset by vastly greater performance. The AMD EPYC CPUs and HPE servers are also rated to operate at higher temperatures, enabling the data centre air conditioning to be run more sparingly. “We achieved a 33% reduction in electricity consumption using 3rd Gen AMD EPYC processors,” says Olivier.

STMicroelectronics also licenses its software on a time basis. The greater performance of AMD EPYC processors means more jobs can be run within that time, saving money.

STMicroelectronics is now testing 4th Gen AMD EPYC processors, with promising results. “We can get at least 25% more performance than the previous generation with 4th Gen AMD EPYC CPUs,” says Olivier. “That’s far better than any competitor available in the market. In our experience, even with 3rd Gen AMD EPYC processors, competitors need 50% more power per core, and the CPUs cost 75% more for lower performance. So, 4th Gen AMD EPYC will be even further ahead. There are four things we like about AMD EPYC processors. First, AMD’s ability to execute the roadmap on time. Secondly, supply delivery without any semiconductor shortage. Third, AMD works with the ecosystem, supporting our stack. And finally, there is alignment between preferred partners, so HPE and Microsoft Azure have the same technology.”

Encouraged by these benefits, STMicroelectronics is now also considering the addition of  AMD GPUs to its data centre fleet. “We are incredibly happy to have an alternative to the other CPUs on the market and a partner like AMD.”

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