ARM Server Chips Forcing Intel to Defend Market It's Long Dominated
Moorhead said the push in fabrics by the ARM partners has helped accelerate Intel's innovation in the area. Intel in recent years has bolstered its capabilities around interconnect technologies through the acquisitions of Fulcrum Microsystems and technologies from Cray and Qlogic. Earlier this month, Intel unveiled Omni Scale, an open fabric technology that will be introduced in the upcoming 14nm Xeon Phi "Knights Landing" chips for the HPC space. "When you have 95 percent of the [server chip] market, you are going to respond to threats," Moorhead said. ARM's business model also has helped the chip designer and its partners respond to the growing demand for processors and systems that can be optimized for particular workloads, and is a key differentiator from Intel. Whereas Intel sees its x86-based processors being flexible enough to handle all workloads—from embedded and mobile systems to the largest servers and supercomputers—ARM designs low-power SoCs, and then licenses those designs to chip makers, who add their own technologies before selling the chips to systems makers. The result is a wide range of ARM-based processors that vary in their features and can be chosen based on workload needs. ARM's Underhill pointed to Texas Instruments as an example, noting the chip maker's strong heritage in digital signal processors (DSPs), while AMD, Applied Micro, Broadcom and Cavium all have strengths in networking and storage. Field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) also can be added into that mix, according to officials with HP and Dell."There is overlap [between products], but the issue is not the overlap," he said. "The issue is where they don't overlap, and that justifies their existence." Other chip vendors are trying to leverage business models similar to ARM's to expand their reach of their architectures. IBM last year launched the OpenPower Consortium, with Big Blue licensing its Power processors to other companies so they can build their own servers, networking systems and storage appliances based on IBM's architecture. Imagination Technologies in May announced Prpl, a similar effort for the MIPS architecture. Through all this, Intel hasn't been standing still. The company has been aggressive in expanding the reach of its processors, including in the data center. As noted, Intel has made moves in developing its fabric technology and later this year will release its third-generation Atom chip for microservers, and is addressing business demand for greater choice and workload optimization. The company is offering a wider variety of its server chips with varying numbers of cores, frequencies and accelerators to address a range of server workloads as well as networking and storage tasks. For example, when the Xeon E5-2600 v2 was launched in September 2013, the portfolio offered 21 different products. In addition, the company is growing its custom chip businesses, and earlier this month, Diane Bryant, senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Data Center and Connected Systems Group, announced the chip maker will integrate FPGAs—which enable end users to program chips for particular jobs, then reprogram them for others—into the same package as Xeon processors.
Organizations will have a choice of SoCs that have different assets for different workloads, but are all based on the basic ARM architecture. HP's Bradicich likened it to cars, which have the same basic infrastructure, though with a wide range of features.