Rapid Data Center Evolution Forces Chip Makers to Adopt New Strategies
The lower end, which focuses on dense, energy-efficient systems, is still just beginning to evolve, which opens up opportunities for AMD and ARM in the server market, which has been dominated by Intel, he said. There's no guarantee Intel will be able to dominate the microserver space as it does other areas of the server market. Richard Fichera, an analyst with Forrester Research, said Intel's two-day workshop gave executives the chance to let the industry know what it plans to do in the space. "Legacy IT processing is not an issue," Fichera wrote in a July 23 post on the Forrester blog. "For all practical purposes, Intel owns this space. But the emerging worlds of cloud, big data and the Internet of things may have some surprises left as they develop. This event allows Intel to highlight its successes and lay out strategies for what will be the fastest-growing segments of the infrastructure business, and also ones where Intel may actually face competition from emerging ARM alternatives and an intensely focused AMD, which has put a lot of its muscle behind cloud, mobile and low-power semiconductors." AMD has also managed to "snatch up a couple of highly visible CPU contracts," Fichera noted. ARM officials see the same low-power, high-performance capabilities that have made their SoC designs dominant in the mobile device space as good fits for the burgeoning microserver market, where energy efficiency is crucial. Their ARMv8 architecture will bring crucial data center features to their designs, from 64-bit computing to greater support for virtualization to more memory. Officials also boast about their broad partnerships, not only with Calxeda and Marvell, but also AMD and others likes Samsung and Qualcomm.Manyam also said the growing use of open-source technology in data centers and partnerships with open-source vendors defuses Intel's contention that familiar x86 tools and software—and its compatibility with common data center applications—give it a significant advantage over ARM in servers. "Open source is the great equalizer," she said. "I don't think the gap [between ARM and Intel in server processor technology] is as much as you might think" TBR's Perry isn't so sure. Software compatibility could be an issue for ARM going forward. Some organizations have told Perry that they're wary about bringing another architecture into the data center. However, given that microservers are only a relatively small part of the larger server space and are aimed at specific workloads, that might not become as big a problem, he said. "We're still in the wait-and-see phase," Perry said. "Nobody's counting out ARM."
Collaboration drives innovation, and that collaboration—with or among chip makers, software vendors and Linux distributors Red Hat, Canonical and Ubuntu—represents the core element of ARM's opportunity in servers, Lakshmi Mandyam, director of ARM's Server and Ecosystems unit, told eWEEK at HP's Project Moonshot launch in April.