eWEEK at 30: Intel, ARM Ramping Up Rivalry in Mobile, Server Markets
The effort also is being supported by the Linaro open-source project, which helps develop software for ARM chips and has taken an important role in helping optimize Linux for the architecture. At HP's launch of its first Moonshot microservers last year—which currently run on Intel processors—Mandyam said development of the ecosystem will be crucial to ARM's efforts and that the growth of open source in data centers played to the company's strengths. "Open source is the great equalizer," Mandyam said. "I don't think the gap [between ARM and Intel in server processor technology] is as much as you might think." As 2014 unfolds and rolls into 2015, ARM expects momentum to build, she told eWEEK. Already this year, there have been significant steps. AMD in January unveiled its eight-core Opteron A1100 ARM-based SoC, which officials said will begin sampling this quarter. In addition, HP officials said they will begin shipping ARM-powered Moonshot servers this year. Meanwhile Dell earlier this month unveiled an ARM-based proof-of-concept system aimed at helping expand the ecosystem around the SoC architecture.Dell has been working with ARM since 2008 to bring the SoC architecture to the data center, according to Robert Hormuth, senior distinguished engineer and executive director of platform technology and architecture at Dell. Hormuth expects things to speed up throughout 2014. "Now that 64 bit [in the ARM architecture] is real … expect to see some development platforms come out, probably at a [rapid] pace," he told eWEEK. "All the pieces are starting to come into play." However, there will be challenges, according to Pund-IT's King, with Intel being the largest. While ARM and its partners are still several months away from seeing the first ARM-based servers get to market and a year or more away from broad deployment by end users, Intel is on the second generation of Atom SoCs for low-power servers, and is already powering commercial HP Moonshot systems. The company also is working on the 14nm "Denverton" Atom chip, due out later this year. "It's not a company that rests on its laurels very long, and it's a company that invests pretty massively in next-generation technology and manufacturing to keep that competitive edge," King said. There's also the question of how big the server opportunity is for ARM. AMD's Feldman has said ARM could capture as much as 25 percent of the server market by 2019. However, others say the microserver segment could be 10 percent or less of the server space. That also will lead to a consolidation of ARM server SoC vendors, with King and others saying that eventually there will be room for three or four. Already one of the higher-profile vendors, Calxeda, shut down in December 2013 because it couldn't generate enough cash flow to remain in business. "You're going to see a handful of players in the end, but there will be enough business to sustain that," Suresh Gopalakrishnan, corporate vice president and general manager of AMD's Server business unit, told eWEEK. The technology is solid; the software environment around the architecture is growing strong; and the business demand is there, Gopalakrishnan said. Whether ARM will be able to expand its reach beyond the Web-based companies and into enterprise data centers is another question, King said. The ARM architecture may be attractive to the likes of Google and Yahoo, but it will be difficult to sell ARM-based servers to enterprises if ARM and its partners are looking in that direction.
Just as significant, ARM and some partners in late January rolled out the ARM Server Base System Architecture (SBSA) specification, a platform standard for servers running 64-bit ARM chips.