World's Biggest Server Maker, HP, Reportedly Prepares ARM-Based Servers
October 28, 2011 11:09 AM
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HP is turning to an obscure ARM chipmaker to provide its CPUs
is shaking up the CPU market this morning. The news agency cites two sources close to hardware giant Hewlett-Packard Comp. (
) as indicating that the company was close to releasing servers powered by ARM-architecture CPUs. The move would be a blow to Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. (
), a minority player in the market, but would be most painful to Intel Corp. (
) the world's largest maker of server CPUs.
I. HP to Become First Big ARM Server Seller?
SERVERS are the racked computers that power the internet, business networks, and the mobile devices services we all know and love. HP is in a statistical dead heat [
] with International Business Machines, Inc. (
) for the global lead in server revenue, so its moves are carefully scrutinized.
Server CPUs represent a $9B USD market. When it comes to the architecture used, it typically depends on the kind of server. Mission critical servers are a quirky lot, home to Intel Corp.'s (
non-x86 Itanium architecture chips
, and other seldom seen architectures. But when it comes to your vanilla standard work servers, almost all use x86 designs from Intel (Xeon CPUs) or AMD (Opteron CPUs).
Intel is the world's biggest server CPU maker. [Source: Network.in]
If HP indeed embraces ARM, it would be the first of the server heavyweights to support the rival architecture. It reportedly is planning to use a startup named Calxeda, Inc. Calxeda launched in 2008 and is based in Austin, Texas. It is partially owned by the UK-based ARM Holdings Plc. (
), the firm which designs the base ARM architectures and licenses them to third-party chipmakers for customization.
Some ARM architecture chips are becoming familiar names to mobile device fans. ARM designs like NVIDIA Corp.'s (
) Tegra and Qualcomm, Inc.'s (
) Snapdragon power virtually all smartphones and tablets.
Calxeda isn't exactly a household name, though, as it's focused on developing server CPUs and does not make mobile device chips. Calxeda hopes to apply the same advantage that ARM has in the mobie space -- power efficiency -- to server space designs. In fact, the
says its flagship design draws only 5 watts of power.
II. Can ARM Best Intel in Server Power Consumption?
ARM Vice President Michael Inglis last week suggested that ARM could make serious inroads into the server market, commenting, "One of the biggest issues today in the server farms is power management. As we move forward into 2014 you’ll begin to see [ARM server] systems emerging."
With companies like Google and Facebook resorting to extremes [
] to cut their hundreds of millions of dollars in server power costs, ARM may be a tempting alternative. Assuming ARM server chips are equivalently functional from an I/O and memory perspective, the success or failure will basically boil down to their power consumption per unit processing -- flops per watt.
Power efficient ARM CPUs have a near-complete monopoly on the tablet and smart phone market. Can they replicate this success in the server market and displace an entrenched Intel? [Sources: SkyTV (left); Tech Genie (right)]
Ultimately it's unknown exactly how well these designs will do, because of two factors. First, ARM servers chip designs are just starting to hit the market. Second, Intel is preparing to launch its first Ivy Bridge CPUs,
which come with 3D transistors
. Intel promises this innovation on the 22 nm node will dramatically slash power. The pressing question is whether it will be enough to meet or beat architectural advantages of the low-power ARM CPUs. Intel told us it would at Intel Developer Forum, but obviously that's a partisan statement.
Servers chips are the fastest growing part of Intel's business, rising 35 percent last year, versus 21 percent for personal computer chips. Approximately 19 percent of Intel's revenue comes from HP, its biggest single customer. Now Intel finds itself playing the same game it's playing in the laptop market --
trying to keep ARM locked out
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RE: "Uses less power" does NOT mean "more efficient"
10/29/2011 11:55:04 AM
However, for low load tasks or cheap servers, ARM would be ideal.
I believe anand on anandtech.com once stated that processors can only realistically cover about 1 order of magnitude worth of power before the architecture becomes inefficient. Thus, a xenon would probably become inefficent at sub 10 watts. An ARM processor can operate at about ~1w. That means that ARM neatly covers that gap.
While virtualization can cover multiple loads succesfully on consolidated hardware, some situations probably only call for a server that can handle loads that an ARM processor would probably do fine with, and you could probably make it about the size of a USB stick with an ethernet dongle and a wall wort as a power supply and sell it for $50.
RE: "Uses less power" does NOT mean "more efficient"
10/30/2011 2:58:23 AM
It almost sounds to me like you're describing NVidia's Kal-El architecture, just at the server level though. Use lower power processor till load is sufficient to justify using heavy-duty processor.
In the case you describe, use ARM chips -- and hope your software is quite threaded -- till the load reaches a certain point then move the processes over to a Xenon server. [Kind of heart-wrenching that AMD is sucking wind here, especially w/ their drowsy dozer]. Since I don't run a cloud-server or virtualization farm I can't tell you whether such work loads are typical, though perhaps somebody else here could.
I wouldn't gainsay the feasibility of building a server for, say $100, but I'd say it's highly unlikely due to enterprise-market margins.
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