Applied Micro CEO: X-Gene SoC Is X-Factor in Microservers

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-09-03 Print this article Print

Web companies, such as Facebook and Google, which run massive data centers, are looking for small, low-power systems to run huge numbers of small workloads. The need in hyperscale environments are for systems that don’t take up much space or consume much power. Top-tier OEMs are looking to address the demand. Hewlett-Packard is beginning to roll out ultra-low-power systems from its Project Moonshot initiative, and while the first systems are powered by Intel’s Atom chips, future Moonshot systems will run on chips from ARM chip makers such as Advanced Micro Devices, Calxeda, Marvell and Applied Micro.

Dell, too, is offering microservers, including through its Copper strategy, which also will leverage ARM-based chips.

AMD executives, who will begin making ARM-based server chips next year, have said ARM could gain 20 percent of the server market by 2016.

Applied Micro’s stance illustrates the complex world of microserver SoCs. ARM and its partners are competing with Intel, aiming to gain traction in a server market that the giant chip maker has dominated for years. However, competition within the ARM community also will be fierce, as ARM partners look to grab a larger share than other ARM vendors. Gopi said Applied Micro’s head start gives it an advantage over other ARM partners. Meanwhile, AMD executives have argued that they expect their company’s expertise in making server chips and the strong relationship with OEMs will enable it to become the top ARM server chip maker.

Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst with Insight 64, said he is skeptical about whether Applied Micro will have an advantage over AMD and others. The problem is that company officials had promised a 40-nm chip with 64-bit capabilities and particular features by the end of 2012, Brookwood told eWEEK. However, some key features were left behind, such as an integrated fabric controller, which he said is a key capability for any microserver chip.

“If they had delivered on their schedule with the capabilities they talked about, they’d have a huge lead vis-à-vis other [ARM] vendors,” he said.

Having fabric controllers integrated onto the SoC makes for easier and faster communications between chips, server and racks of servers in the data center, Brookwood said. Both Calxeda, with its EnergyCore SoCs, and AMD with its Freedom Fabric, are integrating fabric controllers into the 64-bit ARM SoCs they are planning to launch in the middle of next year. Intel, with its evolving Rack Scale Architecture efforts, is looking to integrate fabric management onto the silicon, so any advantage Applied Micro might have had has been neutralized, he said.

“It’s going to be a ballgame,” Brookwood said. “Intel shouldn’t be counted out.”


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