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Russia to Replace Intel, AMD Server Chips With ARM SoCs

The country will develop its own ARM-based server processors, with the first chips scheduled to launch in 2015.

data center

The Russian government reportedly is pushing a program that would rid government systems of x86 processors from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, opting instead for a homegrown chip based on ARM's 64-bit architecture.

Russian news agencies like the Kommersant and Itar-Tass this month have run articles outlining the country's Ministry of Industry plans, which will cost tens of millions and be financed by the state defense agency Rostec and Rosano, a state-run technology company.

The new chips, called Baikal, will be designed by a subsidiary of Russian supercomputer maker T-Platforms named Baikal Electronics. Baikal is the name of a massive lake in the southern region of Siberia.

The first products will be eight-core 28-nanometer processors that will be used in both PCs and microservers, which will run open-source software on a Linux operating system, according to the report in Kommersant, via Google Translate. The initial Baikal chips will roll out in early 2015, with the next generation—which will hold up to 16 cores and be manufactured via a 16nm process—launching a year later.

ARM designs low-power systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) and licenses the architecture to partners like Samsung and Qualcomm, which add their own technologies and then sell their chips to systems makers. ARM-based chips are found in most smartphones and tablets, and ARM executives for several years have talked about moving the architecture into the data center to run servers.

Now ARM has its first 64-bit architecture—ARMv8-A—and chip makers like Applied Micro, Cavium and AMD are building chips to challenge Intel, not only in low-power microservers but also in mainstream servers and high-performance computing (HPC) systems.

The intial Baikal processors—M and M/S—will be built on ARM's 64-bit Cortex-A57 design and running at 2GHz.

There reportedly was no direct reason given for the Russian government's decision to move from x86 to ARM, although speculation focused on recent reports of the U.S. National Security Agency's efforts to compromise U.S. technology products to further surveillance efforts on other countries.

The move could prove to be a boon for ARM. The Baikal chips will be used on a range of computers run by Russian government agencies and state-run companies. According to Kommersant, these offices and businesses spend as much as $500 million every year to buy about 700,000 PCs, and another $800 million annually for about 300,000 servers.