Friday, November 4, 2011

Mobile CPU chip maker ARM looking to supply chips for ultra-low-power servers

The Internet is sucking down electricity by the megawatt and all our gains from widespread communication could be lost to the energy and resource cost required to run the Internet.  We want to avoid cooking the planet (wide-spread surveys of the people say environmental issues are high on their mind) so it's best if the internet infrastructure were to be made of highly efficient machines.

Enter ARM and their ultra-low-energy-required CPU's.  ARM got its start building chips for small computers and really took off along with the cell phone boom.  Their CPU design has all sorts of goodness baked in to let cell phone operating systems keep power consumption low, to give cell phone owners long standby times.  Apparently they're now looking to apply their low energy smarts to server design and the internet infrastructure.


Currently there are two primary companies making CPU chips for servers - Intel and AMD.  AMD is largely beholden to Intel which means they don't have much freedom to innovate, which then means that the server market is basically tied to one CPU architecture.  Intel's.  Not that Intel has been able to use that power to impose new CPU architectures, as they were unable to get the market to go along with the Itanium chips.

Not only does ARM offer a low power CPU design, it offers server vendors a chip design with little in the way of licensing stranglehold and freedom to innovate.  The way this works is that ARM licenses out the basic chip design to companies that make custom ARM-compatible chips.  For example AppliedMicro is planning to manufacture chips using a next generation design from ARM that will deliver 3GHz clock speeds at the fraction of energy for an equivalent Intel chip.  At a lower price.

One of the trends in Internet technology is "cloud computing" where the idea is to automatically allocate servers to meet traffic demands.  Large website operators hope to avoid losing customers during traffic spikes by making sure they ramp up (and down) the number of servers based on traffic.  That's great for the customers but isn't so good for the environment if the servers being ramped up use high amounts of energy.

AppliedMicro in particular wants to use these ARM cpu's in "webscale" servers.

HP is partnering with Calxeda to design a line of servers using ARM-based CPU's, making them the first major server vendor to do so.

ARM recently released details of their next generation architecture which will now include 64-bit CPU design as well as the 32-bit designs they've offered for awhile.  64-bit CPU's are important in the server world in part due to large memory requirements.

The move to adoption of ARM based architectures will take awhile, perhaps not until 2014 by which time Intel may have increased the efficiency of their chips.


ARM’s new IP lets AppliedMicro make cloud servers

ARM CTO: We’re changing server economics

HP Planning ARM-Based Servers With Calxeda, Challenging Intel: Reports

The ARM v. Intel fight just got good



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