ARM plc has confirmed that within the next 12 months its architecture, which is currently used primarily in cell phones and consumer electronics, will also be used in servers — pitting it against the lifeblood of Intel’s chip business. Speaking with EETimes, Warren East, the CEO of ARM, said servers using ARM-based chips should appear within the year.
The news shouldn’t come as a surprise to our readers, since I profiled Smooth-Stone, one company trying to build low-power servers earlier this month, and in that same post pointed to ARM’s server ambitions. And it’s not just startups that are interested in using the low-power ARM architecture inside data centers, either. Google recently acquired a secretive startup called Agnilux that was rumored to be making a server with the ARM architecture. We also reported on a Microsoft job listing that sought a software development engineer with experience running ARM in the data center for the company’s eXtreme Computing group.
For the last couple of decades, Intel’s x86 chips have gained dominance in the data center, but as power considerations begin to outweigh the benefits of a cheap, general purpose processor, other chip makers have started to smell blood. Nvidia is pushing its graphics processors for some types of applications, while Texas Instruments is researching the use of DSPs inside servers. So ARM’s server ambitions aren’t so far-fetched, and because of its ubiquity it may have the best chance at success, especially as more and more software is written for mobiles where ARM dominates. East told EETimes:
The architecture can support server application as it is. The implementations [of ARM] have traditionally been aimed at relatively low performance optimized for minimum power consumption. But we are seeing higher speed, multicore implementations now pushing up to 2-GHz. The main difference for a server processor is the addition of high-speed communications interfaces.
Smooth-Stone, for example, says it has developed intellectual property at the silicon level to handle the communications between the myriad ARM-based processors that would be needed inside a server. However, ARM isn’t the only low-power solution in the server world. Intel’s best hope may lie in companies using its low-power Atom chips to build greener boxes. I’m hoping we’ll hear more about ARM’s server ambitions when Ian Feurgeson, the director of enterprise and embedded solutions at ARM and the guy in charge of the company’s server ambitions, speaks at our Structure 10 conference in June.
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