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ARM based chips look to take on Intel in datacentres, but will they make inroads?

During the last few years, a number of companies have attempted to get ARM based devices selected for datacentre applications. Applied Micro, for example, is into its third generation of product, but has yet to show a significant breakthrough. Others, such as Calxeda – which tried to break into the market with 32bit parts – have fallen by the wayside, even though its technology had been selected by Hewlett-Packard for a blade server.

Yet hope springs eternal; AMD remains in the game and, interestingly, Amazon subsidiary Annapurna launched ARM based datacentre chips last week. Mind you, it does help business if your parent company runs the odd datacentre or two.

During AMD’s launch of the Opteron A1100, the senior executive stressed that AMD wouldn’t be ‘in competition’. But, I suggested, unless you’re only selling to existing customers, you will be. The answer, paraphrased, was that AMD wouldn’t be in competition with other ARM based vendors.

Fine ambitions, but the datacentre business is dominated by Intel and its x86 architecture. Displacing the processor giant isn’t just about sockets, it’s about the ecosystem, the vast amount of legacy software and people’s ‘comfort zones’.

While ARM’s potential in the datacentre was boosted with the launch of the 64bit ARMv8 architecture, you still feel it’s going to be some time before ARM based parts make a significant showing in datacentres.

Graham Pitcher

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