Samsung has hired several ex-AMD officials who have deep server chip expertise, fueling speculation that it is gearing up to compete with Intel in the market.
Electronics appears to be prepping to make a push into the server processor
market, taking on x86-based chip makers Intel and Advanced Micro Devices with
its ARM-designed products.
the last couple of years has added a number of executives and engineers with
server processor experience to its research and development facility in Austin,
Texas. Its latest addition appears to be Pat Patla, a former vice president and
general manager of AMDs Opteron server chip business who left that company
last week and is now a vice president at Samsung, according to his LinkedIn
several other hires over the last couple of years of former AMD officials who
now work for Samsungs Austin facility, fueling speculation that Samsungtraditionally
the world's second-largest semiconductor maker behind Intelis gearing up to
take a run at Intel and its server chip dominance.
surprise me, Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research, told eWEEK
. It sounds like some of the hires
theyve made are all deeply versed in server technology.
noted that some of these hires also have strong system-on-a-chip (SoC)
expertise, so Samsungs motives might not be exclusively server-oriented. But
its an indication that theyre at least investigating [a server chip push].
Such an effort
should be expected. ARM Holdings executives have been vocal
their intention to create chip designs with the features needed for servers,
including 64-bit support. In October 2011, ARM introduced its ARMv8 architecture
, which includes 64-bit
capabilities. However, officials said it could be 2014 before ARM-based systems
hit the market.
made a splash around the same time, announcing 64-bit-capable prototype chips
based on ARMv8, and such vendors as Marvell Technology and Calxeda said they
were working on 32-bit ARM chips that would be compatible with ARMv8.
King said that
having a heavyweight like Samsung pursuing ARM-based server chips would
validate the efforts being made by ARM and other manufacturers.
who had been with AMD for more than 15 years before spending one year with Sun
Microsystems, has been vice president of design at Samsungs Austin facility
for two years. On his LinkedIn profile, Hawkins wrote that Samsung is
continuing to expand in most design areas especially the front-end space for
System, SoC and CPU architecture, verification and performance
modeling. We now have our lead CPU and System Architects in place as well
as our verification and performance leads. We are about to kick it in high gear
with our newest design program.
In June 2011,
Samsung also hired Jim Mergard after he spent 16 years with AMD. Two months
later, the company hired Brad Burgess, who had worked at AMD for eight years
and Intel for three years before that.
executives have been somewhat dismissive about the idea of ARM-based chips
gaining much traction in the server market, arguing that the chips lack key
featuresincluding performance, 64-bit capabilities and software supportnecessary
in the server market. In addition, Intel and AMD both have been pushing to
drive up both the performance and energy efficiency of their own server
analysts said that with the rise of cloud computing and Web 2.0 companies like
Facebook and Googlewith their massive data centers processing high numbers of
relatively small workloadsthere is a growing market for low-power,
high-performing servers, and that ARM designs, which dominate the mobile
computing space in smartphones and tablets, could find their way into such
applications that are more power-sensitive than performance-sensitive, ARM is
going to have a real opportunity, Nathan Brookwood, an analyst with Insight
64, said in an interview with eWEEK
also is getting the attention of some major systems makers. Hewlett-Packard in
November 2011 announced its Project Moonshot,
an effort to create extremely
low-power servers to run very large cloud and Web 2.0 data centers, where
cooling and power costs are key concerns. As part of the initiative, HP is
working with Calxeda to create systems powered by ARM-based chips.
Dell officials have said they are keeping an eye on the developments, and
routinely run test systems powered by non-x86 chips, including ARM processors.
However, Forrest Norrod, vice president and general manager of Dells Data
Center Solutions group, in an interview with eWEEK
last year questioned whether ARMs opportunity to make a mark
in the server space is dwindling, saying the move is taking longer than he
expected, particularly in the area of software support. Still, Norrod said, The
ecosystem is not quite there yet. But its not insurmountable.
Brookwood said 64-bit capabilities will be important for ARM chips, but noted
that many cloud computing deployments use Linux-based applications, so software
support for Windows is not as important in that arena. Its much less of a big
deal here than it is in more traditional data centers, he said. Instead,
metrics such as power-per-wattwhere ARM has a significant advantage over x86
chipsare crucial in cloud and Web 2.0 environments.
So is server
density, where SoCs with built-in fabrics will be important. AMD made a step in
that direction with its acquisition in February of SeaMicro, which was making
ultra-dense servers that included Intel chips and its own fabric technology.
AMD will be able to leverage the SeaMicro products immediately, but it will
take time for the company to tightly integrate AMD products with SeaMicros
technology, Brookwood said.
Intel is a
little farther behind, though, he said.
vice president and general manager of Intels Datacenter and Connected Systems
Group, said after the announcement of AMDs SeaMicro deal
that Intel has a very robust
and compelling road map for this [microserver] market, and we partner with
Dell, Supermicro, NEC and Hitachi with others to be announced soon. Weve been
also collaborating extensively with HP on low-power servers and scale-out
Brookwood noted that Intel has not been clear about its own fabric plans, and
it could take a whileeven for such a well-funded and well-staffed company like
Intelto develop its own chip fabric.