Qualcomm Names Upcoming Server Family Centriq

The chip maker also creates a subsidiary for its data center business and says it's on target to start sampling production silicon this year.

Qualcomm chips

Qualcomm officials are continuing to get the company ready to take on Intel and its position as the dominant supplier of processors for the data center.

The company this week announced that it has created a new business center group that will be focused on efforts in the data center, such as providing chips for servers and other enterprise systems. The Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies unit will be a subsidiary of Qualcomm.

In addition, Qualcomm officials said the company's upcoming family of ARM-based systems-on-a-chip (SoCs) for the server will be given the name Centriq, and added that Qualcomm engineers were on track with the previously stated goal of sampling production silicon by the end of the year.

The moves are important steps for Qualcomm and the larger community of ARM server chip suppliers as they look to carve into Intel's position as the world's top server chip supplier. It's a big market, projected by industry analysts to grow to $18 billion by 2020, and right now, Intel chips run more than 95 percent of all servers.

Competitors and analysts have said that OEMs and end-user organizations are looking for second suppliers of silicon and alternatives to Intel to help drive innovation and keep controls of pricing. ARM officials several years ago said that its low-power chip designs—which can be found in most of the chips that run smartphones and tablets—would be that second option, particularly for high-end hyperscale companies and service providers, who put a premium on not only performance but also energy efficiency.

There are some 64-bit ARM-based data center chips on the market from such vendors as Cavium and Applied Micro, with some moving into their second and third generations. The effort got a boost this week when Hewlett Packard Enterprise announced it was using Applied Micro's X-Gene SoCs in its new StoreVirtual 3200 virtualized infrastructure offering.

Qualcomm officials in 2014 announced their intention to enter into the ARM server push, with an eye toward hyperscale data center environments running workloads as big data, machine learning, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS).

The move was significant because it involved a vendor with the financial resources to take on Intel and a highly recognizable name. It also came around the same time that Samsung Electronics reportedly decided to end its plans for the market. In addition, Advanced Micro Devices recently decided to put off its work around ARM-based server chips to put more resources and effort behind re-energizing its x86 chip business, including the development of the new "Zen" microarchitecture.

In an interview this week with eWEEK in San Francisco, blocks from where Intel was holding its Intel Developer Forum, Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and general manager of Qualcomm's Data Center Group, said having the data center business operating as a subsidiary enables it to be more nimble in such areas as customer relations and technology decision-making. Many of the needs of smartphone users are different from those of enterprises looking for data center products, Chandrasekher said.

He also said moving into the data center is an important step for the company at a time when such trends as cloud computing, the proliferation of mobile devices and the internet of things (IoT) are blurring the lines between consumer and corporate technologies. Qualcomm is the world's largest vendor of silicon for such devices as smartphones and tablets and is growing in the emerging IoT space, giving it a strong presence at the edge of the network, Chandrasekher said.

With the growth of the cloud, "all of these things are connected to the data center, and we really needed to have a presence in the data center," he said.

Chandrasekher noted that while Qualcomm officials have not talked a lot about their server plans since announcing them in November 2014, there has been a lot going on behind the scenes. The company in October 2015 began sampling a pre-production version of a 24-core chip based on a custom ARMv8 design with select customers and partners, and also announced partnerships with Xilinx for field-programmable gate arrays (FPGAs) and Mellanox Technologies for Ethernet and InfiniBand interconnect technologies.

The company earlier this year also has announced a joint venture with the Guizhou Province in China to design, build and sell server chipsets in the Chinese market, and helped establish the Cache Coherent Interconnect for Accelerators (CCIX) consortium to create open compute and accelerator standards. Other members are AMD, IBM, Xilinx, Mellanox, ARM and Huawei.