Editorial: AMD’s Play At ARM– What it means for Servers Going Forward

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AMD has been a key player in x86 computing for a long time, and while it has never been the leader in the field, its presence in the market has been key to developing new technologies and driving efficiencies. It’s share in the server market has declined significantly over the past few years, dropping from 15% in 2007 to 4.4% in 2012. The market has been dominated by Intel since then, owning a greater than 95% market share.   At the same time, the relative server price trend has been increasing at a faster rate than we had seen over the earlier half of the decade, and performance increases have begun to slow down year-over-year. Couple the flattening of the performance curve and increasing demand from customers, and we are beginning to see the problem. While certainly there is no immediate crisis, but the growth in the need for bandwidth, and the “internet of everything” will soon begin to overwhelm the field.


What can we do?

Well, everyone’s first reaction to this is going to be— “WE NEED MORE POWER!!!!!!!”, and certainly that is the case. But it seems we are beginning to get closer to the plateau of Moore’s law, and we need to think differently as IT Professionals going forward. One solution is to buy bigger and better Xeons, Intel makes Xeon with a whopping 18 cores and 32 threads, that is designed for dual socket applications, called the Xeon E5-2699 v3. That’s an astounding 32 cores and 64 threads—and can be coupled with as much as 128GB of RAM or more. But that monster will cost over $5,000 dollars. Surely there’s an alternative that is more cost effective and more power efficient. Enter AMD, ARM and microservers. They already have a working SDK very capable board, based on the ARM Cortex A57. Granted this thing can’t touch the compute power of the Xeon above, we are moving into an increasingly parallel environment, what if we could get 8, or 16 of these small form factor server boards in place of your existing server? With things like Google PEGASUS and other power saving technologies, coupled with AMD’s acquisition of Seamicro it looks like the server market is moving in the direction of high-density, low power computing, and ARM may be great tool for the job. However, Intel has come a long way with Atom and will be a very competitive player in this space for a time to come.


What is happening with AMD ARM?

ARM is becoming increasingly supported and recognized in just about every other space, and its CPU’s are selling like hot-cakes. So it’s no wonder that AMD decided to throw its hat in the ring. They are even developing their own ARM core.  Right now however, AMD is licensing the Cortex A57 cores and it appears that this was just a stepping stone into the market. The truly revolutionary technology is still around the corner. HSA, ambidextrous computing, Openstack and new ground-up designs of CPU cores are just some of the buzz words the marketing team over at AMD are trumpeting these days. Project Skybridge will bring together all of these key technologies, on one platform. This will allow the market to decide to adopt ARM if they choose, while maintaining the ability to switch back to x86 at a low cost, or it will allow people to transition from x86 to ARM in the future much more smoothly—having only to swap out processors, not whole racks.


Times are-a-changin

The whole industry is under a transition—and it will be interesting if current market leaders like Intel and Cisco will start losing market share. I expect to see a plethora of new technologies from all the big names in IT, all in the hopes of trying to differentiate themselves from their competitors. I expect to see a lot of disruptive market actors because of all this change, and we shall see who hedged their bets more wisely.


Nicholas Fusco

Nick Fusco is a young IT Consultant and "geek"! As a contributing author on GBD, he covers all things tech and writes reviews for a variety of products and services.

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