Photo credit: Qualcomm
Microsoft Partners With Qualcomm To Open Floodgates For ARM-Based Data Center – Forbes
The ARM chip architecture reigns supreme in smartphones. For years, companies have tried to port the ARM architecture over to the data center world, but had little success. Intel and its x86 processor architecture have the backend computing infrastructure locked down with around 99% market share. That’s likely about to change.
Microsoft, owner of some of the biggest data center infrastructure in the world, is getting behind mobile chip giant Qualcomm’s fledgling ARM server efforts. This marks one of the most significant commitments from a major cloud vendor for an ARM-based processor. The goal is to get a Qualcomm-based server powering Microsoft’s Azure cloud and other internal services.
(Update: Microsoft also announced a partnership this morning with chipmaker Cavium for using ARM-based data center chips.)
Announced on Wednesday morning at the Open Compute Summit, Qualcomm is releasing a server specification based on Microsoft’s Project Olympus, which is the company’s open source hardware design for the data center. The system will be based off Qualcomm’s second-generation server chip, called the Centriq 2400. The chip is built on the 10 nanometer process node and contains 48 cores.
Qualcomm’s 10nm server chip is sampling only in small volumes now to early partners for testing, but will ship in volume by the end of 2017. With the open source designs submitted, server builders can now start incorporating Qualcomm’s chip designs into their products now and begin shipping immediately once the chip is ready.
“This is more validation that the market is really looking to Qualcomm to break the log jam in terms of companies that can offer state-of-the-art ARM server processors,” said Tirias Research analyst Paul Teich.
Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and general manager of Qualcomm’s datacenter business, said Qualcomm and Microsoft have been working together on the engineering side for several years now just get to this point, and the two companies still have a lot of work ahead of them.
“Our relationship with Microsoft is strategic in nature,” Chandrasekher said. “It doesn’t stop with 10nm chips. We’re working with them on doing other cool things on future projects.”
It’s widely known that the major data center players — Microsoft, Google, Amazon — have played around with ARM servers in their labs, but until now there’s been no official announcements. ARM servers have the potential to not only create more market competition with Intel’s x86 processors, but they will also potentially enable more energy-efficient server farms, which are infamously power hungry.
“This is a very important milestone and it shows the maturity of the ARM ecosystem,” Chandrasekher said. “It’s getting ready for primetime.”
For Qualcomm, this partnership is a major validation for its server efforts, which were first announced in 2015. The San Diego, Calif.-based chipmaker dominates in high-end Android smartphones, but the core mobile market has been rapidly maturing. Intel has begun gobbling up cellular modem business in the iPhone, and important Android phonemakers have increasingly been moving towards using their own silicon. As a result, the company has been trying to diversify away from mobile and into so-called adjacent markets over the last few years.
This isn’t the first major partnership between Microsoft and the ARM ecosystem. Increasingly, it appears Microsoft is trying to separate itself from Intel these days — a partnership that created a duopoly over the PC era, dubbed “Wintel.” In December, Microsoft announced work with Qualcomm to make the full Windows 10 experience to function on Qualcomm’s upcoming mobile chip, the Snapdragon 835.
Intel is facing pressure in the data center from other players: x86 rival AMD is soon launching its next-generation x86 server chip, Naples, the company’s first competitive server chip in years. Intel’s data center business “is beginning to crack,” wrote Stacy Rasgon, an analyst at Bernstein Research, in a recent note. “The world seems to be moving against Intel’s strengths.”
“We operate in a highly competitive market and take all competitors seriously,” Intel said in a statement. “We are confident that Xeon processors will continue to deliver the highest performance and lowest total cost of ownership for our cloud customers. However, we understand the desire of our customers to evaluate other product offerings.”
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