Microsoft in collaboration with Arm delivers its first custom silicon

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Microsoft has, in collaboration with Arm, announced their first custom silicon built for the cloud.

The Microsoft Azure Cobalt CPU, based on Arm Neoverse CSS, has been designed to tackle some of the biggest and most complex challenges that infrastructure will face from AI to sustainability.

According to Microsoft, it has sought to rethink cloud infrastructure in terms of the impact of artificial intelligence (AI) and optimise every layer of that infrastructure.

Microsoft has also built its own custom AI chip that can be used to train large language models - the Maia 100 AI accelerator is intended for running cloud AI workloads. It is currently being tested on GPT 3.5 Turbo, the same model that powers ChatGPT, Bing AI workloads, and GitHub Copilot.

Arm has been working to enable a more ‘frictionless path’ in the development of customised silicon capable of powering the next generation of data centre and networking infrastructure and Arm Neoverse CSS and the recently announced Arm Total Design ecosystem both highlight the company’s efforts to simplify the complex task of delivering more custom, specialised solutions.

In what is being described as a key milestone for the company, Microsoft said that the Azure Cobalt CPU, based on Arm Neoverse CSS, is a 128-core chip that’s built and designed to power general cloud services on Azure.

Microsoft has played a key part in the adoption of Arm Neoverse, according to Arm, demonstrating the price-performance and power efficiency gains of the Arm-based Ampere Altra platform as an early adopter into their Microsoft Azure VM offerings.

Microsoft’s Azure Cobalt 100 is the first generation in the Azure Cobalt CPU series and fully uses the benefits delivered through the Neoverse CSS platform, which has given Microsoft more time to focus on adding unique innovation and optimisation while saving significant development effort.

Microsoft said that it is currently testing its Cobalt CPU on a variety of different workloads like Microsoft Teams and SQL server, and it plans to make virtual machines available to customers next year for a variety of workloads.

"Together with leaders like Microsoft, we’re unlocking a new path to more efficiently building data centres with the performance required to deliver the definitive platforms and services of the coming decade. That’s the true significance of Azure Cobalt, and we are very proud of the role we’ve played in supporting Microsoft’s vision,” said Mohamed Awad, SVP and GM, Infrastructure Line of Business Arm.