Summary:

AMD has taken an ARM license, a huge step for the company. But in taking an ARM license, which gives AMD the ability to design ARM-based chips, AMD is targeting security — not phones or even servers.

Lock on computer chip / privacy / internet privacy / security / safety
photo: Shutterstock / Tatiana Popova

AMD has taken a license for one of ARM’s core designs, a huge step for a company that has spent its entire existence as the underdog holding the only license to make chips using Intel’s x86 architecture. But in taking an ARM license, which gives AMD the ability to design ARM-based chips, AMD is targeting security — not phones or even servers.

AMD is licensing the ARM Cortex A-5 core as part of a plan to bring hardware-based security to its silicon. Beginning next year, AMD chips for the laptop and PC market will have ARM-based cores running ARM’s TrustZone software on them nestled right next to the CPU. By 2014 AMD will include the TrustZone chip in its server and convergence device chips. The move is analogous to Intel’s purchase of McAfee in 2010.

With this move AMD is bowing to several realities, including the dominance of mobile in our current device ecosystem. AMD CIO Mike Wolfe explained that security is becoming a more pressing concern for CIOs everywhere, and by putting security on the chip AMD is delivering a solution that is less likely to become compromised. By choosing to work with ARM’s TrustZone system as opposed to developing its own, AMD is trying to avoid offering another possible solution into a largely fragmented market.

Security is a growing topic of concern as employees bring their own devices into the office and expect to access corporate applications and data on them. But it’s not only BYOD that is causing heartache for CIOs, there is also a consumer angle here too. Password breaches and viruses affect businesses and consumers, and having chip-level, secure access to passwords, mobile wallets and other elements where security is essential will help drive adoption of new technologies. ARM is taking a lead in this area with a joint venture created with SIM-card makers Gemalto and G&D. Other companies such as VMware are trying to address security concerns at the operating system level.

We’ll have a conversation on this and other ways of securing the device ecosystem at Structure 2012 with Bromium founder Simon Crosby and Christopher Hoff, chief architect, security at Juniper Networks.

So while AMD is licensing an ARM core, it’s not the big, bold vision I was hoping for when I wrote that it should take an ARM license. But this move, combined with the Heterogeneous Systems Architecture Foundation news from Tuesday, does show that AMD has a plan for the future, and that plan doesn’t rely solely on outwitting Intel with the x86 architecture that Intel controls.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock user [Tatiana Popova].

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