ARM Server Chips Forcing Intel to Defend Market It's Long Dominated

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2014-06-30 Print this article Print
ARM servers Moonshot

The move to integrate FPGAs made sense for Intel as it looks at ARM and its partners entering the server market, according to Dell's Hormuth, who added that the giant chip maker has done a good job adjusting its product road map to meet the changing demands from businesses for improved power efficiency and solutions optimized for particular workloads.

"It's clear they were responding to market dynamics" with the FPGA integration, he said. "Intel is trying to respond to 10 to 12 competitors." 

It's also part of Intel's larger message that CEO Brian Krzanich spelled out during the company's financial earnings call in April: "If it computes, it runs best on the Intel Architecture."

For the time being, that's what most server workloads will run on, at least until systems start hitting the market with ARM-based SoCs. As HP's Bradicich pointed out, exactly how the systems will run in data centers and how organizations will embrace them remains to be seen. In addition, there already has been some shakeout in the ARM server arena—including Calxeda's shutdown late last year, and reports that Samsung and Nvidia are pulling back on plans to offer ARM-based server chips—but Nvidia announced this month that its GPU accelerators will support 64-bit ARM chips in the HPC space.

However, a number of others, including AMD, Applied Micro, Cavium and Broadcom, are continuing to push the ARM architecture for the data center. Applied Micro and Cavium are using custom CPUs in their SoCs—X-Gene for Applied Micro, ThunderX for Cavium—to challenge Intel and its Xeon chips in mainstream servers. In addition, while Seattle is based on an off-the-shelf ARM Cortex-A57 CPU core, AMD announced that is has licensed the design to build its own CPU core in the future.

In January, ARM released its Server Base System Architecture specification, giving OEMs a framework for building systems powered by its SoCs.

In addition, ARM and its partners are building up the software ecosystem around the architecture, with the help of the likes of the Linaro consortium, which is working to bring open-source software to the ARM platform.

And, in the end, there is interest among systems makers and organizations for an alternative to Intel and x86 in the data center, according to Roy Kim, marketing manager for Nvidia's Tesla Group.

"The data center is really primed up for 64-bit ARM," Kim told eWEEK. "Because there is choice and an open platform, a lot more innovation is going to happen in the data center."


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