It's dubbed "Seattle" and it's AMD's first 64-bit ARM-based Opteron processor. The chip is being released as part of AMD’s Opteron A1100-series developer kit, with an eye toward serving the high-performance needs of data centers. The move represents a challenge to Intel’s dominance of the server market.
According to AMD, the announcement makes it the first semiconductor manufacturer to provide a standard ARM Cortex A57-based server platform for software developers and the only provider of 64-bit ARM server hardware with complete ARMv8 instruction set support. The company is making complete developer kits available for $2,999.
The low-power chip, made with technology licensed from ARM Holdings, has already garnered the Sunnyvale, Calif-based company around $1 million for the quarter ended June 30. AMD said it expects to begin generating more significant revenue from the new server chip in the quarters ending in December 2014 and March 2015, as sales ramp up.
Intel Plays It Cool
The low-power nature of the microserver architecture makes it ideally suited for the data center market composed of large Internet companies in need of high-end performance. But despite AMD’s apparent intention to make yet another run at Intel’s position as market leader, Intel seems unimpressed by the effort.
"While we don't take any competition lightly, the much-hyped threat of ARM servers getting any significant market segment share any time soon has been vastly overplayed," said Intel spokesman Bill Calder, according to a Reuters report.
Executives at Intel have previously cast aspersions on AMD’s microserver architecture, saying that the technology remains unproven and does not represent a threat. But Intel itself has moved into the low-power chip space in the last several years with its own technology, possibly as a hedge against future moves into microservers by large players such as Google and Facebook.
Microserver chips have not yet been widely adopted, although they have the potential to help make large data centers more energy and cost efficient. Similar low-power technology is already being widely used in smartphones.
ARMed and Ready
We asked Patrick Moorhead, president and principal analyst for Moor Insights and Strategy, what he thinks about AMD's new chip. "This is a major milestone [for] AMD,” Moorhead said. “They have over 15 years experience in x86 servers and now they're bringing this to ARM architecture. Their primary competitor will be APM (Applied Micro Circuits), who is coming to market with a custom ARM core.” However, Moorhead added that while AMD will likely “offer lower power, APM will provide higher performance.”
We also reached out to Gartner Research Director Sergis Mushell, who pointed out that microserver architecture has the potential to address up to 15 percent of current server workloads, or about 1.5 million servers. However, AMD’s announcement is less important for addressing today’s workloads, than it is for addressing the requirements of workloads five years down the line.
The introduction of ARM chips will allow the market for server chips, currently dominated by Intel with 95 percent market share, to diversify into one with three or four major players.
The development “creates an ecosystem of providers, not just Intel,” Mushell said. “No one player will have a majority of the market. The winner will be the one who has the solution for the dominant workload of the future.” That contest will be decided when ARM architecture begins to be adopted en masse in three to five years, he said.
“The journey toward a more efficient infrastructure for large-scale datacenters is taking a major step forward today with broader availability of our AMD Opteron A1100-Series development kit,” said Suresh Gopalakrishnan, general manager and vice president, Server business unit, AMD.
“After successfully sampling to major ecosystem partners such as firmware, OS, and tools providers, we are taking the next step in what will be a collaborative effort across the industry to reimagine the datacenter based on the open business model of ARM innovation," he added.