Qualcomm, already highly successful for making processors that power millions of smartphones, now is set on conquering some new market territory: enterprise servers.
The San Diego, Calif.-based chipmaker is climbing into a tank full of internationally successful sharks with familiar names such as Intel, AMD, Intel, ARM and Intel.
Oh, and did we mention Intel, which has had a hard leash on this market for years?
Qualcomm sees itself as becoming a liberator of sorts in the server processor world in its quest to bump Intel from on high. The processor-maker showed a small group of tech journalists Dec. 7 its first ARM-based server chip with 48 cores, produced in an advanced 10-nanometer manufacturing process.
It's called the Qualcomm Centriq 2400, and it could be the product that changes the game for its owner. Like a lot of other established IT companies, Qualcomm needs to expand its intellectual property into new markets.
Qualcomm Senior Vice President and General Manager of Datacenter Technologies Anand Chandrasekher was mysterious about describing the exact capabilities of the new chip and said the company has been working on the project for about four years. He passed around samples of the new chips, which look to the untrained eye pretty much like any other server processor. Only they're not.
"We'll fill in the SOC (system on a chip) aspects of this one at a later date," Chandrasekher said. "We can say that it's very fast."
Qualcomm's 10-nanometer circuitry design—which indicates that each transistor is a billionth of a meter apart from the others—is an accomplishment that ranks months ahead of where Intel is at this time. Intel revealed a few weeks ago that it is now sampling its own 10-nanometer chips, whereas Qualcomm has been sampling for the better part of a year.
"This is certainly not just a 'fat' mobile chip," Chandrasekher said with a smile in response to a question about how Qualcomm's mobile heritage could lead to such a breakthrough in server technology.
"You could argue that a lot of the innovation in chips and chip design is coming from the consumer smartphone side. We think that's the case."
Chandrasekher said that Qualcomm is getting deeper and more involved in the open source software and chip-design world, becoming a regular presence in the Apache Spark, Hadoop, Java, Linux, Open Compute Project and other communities.
"By opening up our processes and software, we're sure to see a lot more innovation that if we kept it all proprietary," he said.
There are a number of important changes taking place in the industry, Chandrasekher said.
"The cloud is gobbling up server production, and that affects the supply chain and software ecosystem. That, in turn, allows for new entrants into the data center market," he said.
Chandrasekher said the Centriq 2400 is designed for high-end data center workloads. The processor will have up to 48 custom ARMv8-compliant cores and use FinFET technology—the same Nvidia uses in its latest graphics chips.
The Qualcomm Centriq 2400 processor series is now sampling to key prospective customers and is expected to be generally available in the second half of 2017, Chandrasekher said.
Image of Anand Chandrasekher courtesy of Qualcomm