Samsung Electronics appears to be prepping a low-power ARM-based server chip, adding to the growing list of non-x86 chip makers looking to challenge Intel's dominance in that market.
Samsung reportedly is looking to release the chip for the burgeoning microserver space sometime in 2014, an indication that the processors will be based on the ARM v8 design, which will include such key data center features as 64-bit capabilities, better virtualization support and greater memory capacity.
Samsung is working on a multi-core system-on-a-chip (SoC) for the market, according to EETimes, referencing a report in the Seoul Economic Daily in South Korea. Microservers are not only getting attention from Intel, AMD and ARM-based chip makers, but also from major OEMs, including Hewlett-Packard and Dell.
The low-power microserver market could grow to become as much as 10 percent of the overall server market, according to analysts. Enterprises running hyperscale data centers; Web 2.0 companies like Google and Facebook operating massive server farms; and cloud service providers are pushing for small, multi-core, extremely energy-efficient systems that can run huge numbers of smaller workloads. ARM executives and their chip-making partners-including Nvidia, Marvell Technologies, Calxeda and AppliedMicro-see a growth opportunity for their low-power SoCs.
ARM, which designs SoCs and then licenses those designs to partners, currently dominates the booming mobile device chip market-including smartphones and tablets-and is looking to move up the ladder into PCs and, eventually, low-power servers. Several of ARM's partners already are working on ARM-based server offerings, though current designs are still based on ARM's 32-bit designs.
However, with the upcoming ARM v8, the chip makers believe they can begin chipping away at Intel's dominance in the server space-the giant chip maker currently owns more than 90 percent of the market.
Samsung over the past couple of years has appeared to be ramping up its server chip capabilities, hiring a number of executives and engineers with processor experience for its R&D facility in Austin, Texas. For example, earlier this year, Samsung hired Pat Patla, a former vice president and general manager of Advanced Micro Device's Opteron server chip business who is now a vice president at Samsung.
HP, Dell and other OEMs also see a chance to expand their businesses. HP officials last year announced the company was working on Calxeda to build ARM-based energy-efficient systems as part of its larger Project Moonshot, aimed at creating ultra-low-power servers. However, the first systems from Project Moonshot will be based on Intel's low-power Atom-based "Centerton" processor.
For its part, Dell is working with Marvell in developing its Copper systems, also based on the ARM architecture.
However, as the Centeron chip shows, neither Intel nor AMD are standing pat. Both are driving down the power consumption of their x86-based chips. Intel executives have been talking about microservers for three years, and executives said in April that the 32-nanometer Centerton is aimed squarely at that market, with a power draw as low as 6 watts and 64-bit capabilities.
For its part, AMD in February made a significant move in the microserver when it spent $334 million to buy SeaMicro, a company that builds very low-power servers. The deal also was a shot at rival Intel-SeaMicro initially based its systems on Intel's Atom platform, though that is expected to eventually change now that it's part of AMD.