eWEEK 30: Intel is playing catch-up in the low-power mobile device market where ARM is its strongest rival. Now ARM is taking aim at Intel's bread-and-butter data center server market.
Editor's Note: This article concludes eWEEK's series of retrospective articles that look back at 30 years of personal computer history—from Feb. 28, 1984, the publication date of the first issue of PC Week, the print predecessor to eWEEK. This final feature brings us to the 30th anniversary of PC Week's debut as eWEEK continues to cover the latest computer industry news in the era of mobile devices, cloud computing and social networking. As we mark this anniversary, eWEEK's editors and writers hope you have enjoyed this look back at computer history, and we look forward to serving you, our readers, for at least the next 30 years.
Andrew Feldman has looked at the changing computing landscape around him and has come to a conclusion: a single processor architecture in the data center just won't work anymore.
As corporate vice president and general manager of Advanced Micro Devices' Server Business Unit, Feldman has an interest in both sides of the issue. AMD for decades has made the bulk of its money from selling processors based on the x86 architecture and designed for servers and PCs, competing against Intel, the world's largest chip maker.
At the same time, Feldman and other AMD officials have been among the most vocal proponents of ARM's ambitions to leverage the growing demand for energy efficiency in the data center and bring its low-power system-on-a-chip
(SoC) designs now found in most smartphones and tablets into highly dense and very small microservers
The rapid changes going on in the computing industry—from the massive numbers of mobile devices connecting to the Internet to the rise of cloud computing to the growth of hyperscale data centers—present an opportunity for a new chip architecture to challenge Intel and its x86 dominance in servers, he told eWEEK
"This new environment is going to have new needs, and the same-old, same-old will not work anymore," Feldman said.
It will take a while to see whether Feldman is right. Systems powered by 64-bit ARM-based processors aren't expected to start hitting the market until later this year and into 2015. Meanwhile, ARM and its partners face a range of challenges as they try to carve off a bit of Intel's vast market share in the server processor space.
That said, 2014 is expected to be a busy year in the growing competition between Intel and ARM, a contest that is playing out on multiple fronts—most notably mobile devices, the data center and the burgeoning Internet of things
"Basically, both Intel and ARM are pushing toward a goal of [ensuring that] products are based on a single architecture," Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT Research, told eWEEK.
However, how they go about working toward that goal is a key difference between the two.
Intel and ARM have been circling each other for several years, each one sitting in a position of strength in one segment of the tech industry while jealously eyeing the other's dominant position in their respective markets. Both companies covet the growth opportunities that are possible if they can only take away some of that business from their rivals.
Intel is far and away the world's largest chip maker, aggressively keeping pace with Moore's Law and building its innovation and manufacturing capabilities over the past two decades to hold market shares that range from more than 80 percent to more than 90 percent. Intel, an enormous and well-funded company, has thousands of engineers that design the chips, which are then manufactured in Intel's state-of-the-art fabrication facilities.
The company also has robust and growing software and development units that offer programmers, OEMs and end users a full software ecosystem that is based on familiar Intel technology that is found in the bulk of the PCs and servers they use.
"Intel argues that IT environments have become so increasingly complex that having a single vendor in charge of semiconductor development and manufacturing is the best way to … experience a fully optimized experience for their customers and end users," King said.
What the company needs is a stronger position in the booming mobile device market, where more than 95 percent of all smartphones and tablets—from Apple's iPhone and iPad to almost every device running Google's Android operating system—run on SoCs designed by ARM.