Chinese CPUs to feature in servers made by sanctioned Russian company

Beijing appears to have lifted its ban on Loongson processors reaching Moscow

If you have an enormous appetite for risk, we have just the hardware for you, from Russian outfit Norsi-Trans, powered by China’s Loongson.

Norsi-Trans bills itself as making “the best hardware and software solutions network systems and business intelligence and production of server equipment for data storage and network services.”

The US Department of State has a different view: in February 2023 it rated the company as one of the few Russian organizations capable of developing and manufacturing the hardware and software uses for its System for Operational-search Measures (SORM) surveillance systems. Moscow deploys SORM for warrantless surveillance of its citizens and compels telcos to install the necessary kit.

SORM kit has been deployed as part of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Norsi-Trans CEO Sergei Anatolyevich Ovchinnikov therefore earned himself a place on the USA’s list of individuals sanctioned due to their assistance of the invasion.

We offer that background on Norsi-Trans as last week Russian business outlet Коммерсантъ (Kommersant) chatted with Ovchinnikov, who told the publication his company has sourced 100 CPUs from China’s Loongson and is working to integrate them into servers, PCs, and storage arrays.

Loongson makes modest MIPS-compatible CPUs using an architecture of its own creation that we have previously described as “RISC-V-MIPS fan fiction”. The company’s most recent benchmark dump suggests its silicon is about four generations behind the best Intel or AMD has to offer.

Whatever Norsi-Trans packs into a server may not therefore result in the most capable kit imaginable.

The Russian hardware company has reportedly tapped an outfit named BaseAlt that develops a Linux-based OS called “Viola” to provide an OS for Loongson. BaseAlt has already ported Viola to Huawei’s Arm-based Kunpeng processors.

News of Norsi-Trans’s plans is significant because in late 2022 China appeared to have banned Loongson exports to Russia, despite the nation’s increasingly-close relationship.

If Beijing has lifted that ban, Moscow is a little closer to accessing tech that goes some way towards addressing the effect of import sanctions.

However the mere fact that Norsi-Trans is even making the attempt to build Loongson-powered servers suggests those sanctions are working. ®

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