Qualcomm said that its specifications pair its recently announced 10nm, 48-core server processor with new interfaces for memory, network and peripherals that will enable suppliers in the Open Compute Project community to access and design ARM-based servers for the most common cloud compute workloads.
That appears to be an acknowledgement of other players in the datacenter processor space, especially companies like NVIDIA and, now, perhaps Qualcomm as well.
Qualcomm said that it has worked "for several years" with Microsoft to develop the technology. But ARM chips are known to be more power-efficient and do come from a wide range of vendors. We found that [ARM servers] provide the most value for our cloud services, specifically our internal cloud applications such as search and indexing, storage, databases, big data and machine learning. In an interview with Bloomberg, Azure VP Jason Zander stated that "this is a significant commitment on behalf of Microsoft".
One of the significant "fallouts" of this relationship, of course, is a weakening of the dependency between Microsoft and Intel. The backend infrastructure for the server (or data center) ecosystem is nearly completely controlled by the latter. "We wouldn't even bring something to a conference if we didn't think this was a committed project and something that's part of our road map".
Microsoft's Leendert van Doorn, Distinguished Engineer, Microsoft Azure, Microsoft Corp., wrote in an official blog post of how ARM servers "represent a real opportunity", to his company. On 2016 alone, Intel has created an operating profit of 7.5 Billion USD from a 17.2 Billion USD worth of sales in the cloud and data center industry.
Intel may seem calm, but internally, the company may be planning a way to counter the announcement by ARM and Microsoft. With less power the need for Intel's use in the server room becomes less important and if ARM designs become more established because of Microsoft's blessing, it is unlikely that anyone will want Chipzilla there.
The issue with ARM chips on Linux servers has been the same as on Microsoft - a lack of software and performance questions. Microsoft, one of three platinum level sponsors for the event, announced their support for ARM server processors in Azure cloud via Microsoft's upcoming Project Olympus OCP standards.
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Microsoft's Azure is now second in the running against fierce competitor Amazon Inc, where both companies translate to big purchases in the server industry.
But using its own designs forces the likes of HPE and Dell to compete against lower-cost generic, commodity manufacturers.
However, Microsoft has not deployed the chips in any customer-facing networks.
The Qualcomm Centriq 2400 Open Compute Motherboard will be on display at Microsoft's booth A4 and in Mellanox booth C-23 at the 2017 OCP US Summit in Santa Clara, Calif., on March 8 and 9.
With Microsoft releasing a new variant of Windows on Arm later this year targeted at the consumer and now that they are supporting the chipset in the server environment as well, this has a big impact on Intel's bottom-line.