Other than the Giants winning the World Series, the other big news coming from San Francisco today is from AMD.
Despite struggling as of late against its larger competitor, AMD took a much anticipated step today in announcing the development of chips based on ARM’s forthcoming 64-bit v8 architecture for server applications. Through the combination of multiple 64-bit ARM cores and SeaMicro’s (the server company acquired by AMD earlier this year) Freedom fabric, AMD plans to offer server processors under the Opteron brand that will complement its x86-based products.
AMD anticipates the first products to be introduced in the 2014 timeframe, a similar timeframe estimated by other vendors targeting server applications with ARM’s new processor architecture. Some details about AMD’s plans remain vague due to the fact that many details on the new v8 architecture have yet to be publicly announced.
AMD indicated that it will be looking to combine the ARM cores with other AMD intellectual property for products in the future. The company would not rule out the potential for combining ARM cores with AMD’s GPU cores for a new version of the company’s accelerated processing units (APUs) used in PCs today or in potential combining ARM and x86 cores in the same chip if an application or customer warrants such a product.
AMD would also not rule out the potential to modify the future cores like other ARM licensees, most notably Apple and Qualcomm, which hold architectural licenses. AMD will be working on some software solutions to support the new products, but also anticipates support from third party vendors, especially the open-source software community.
In addition to ARM, other companies supporting AMD’s announcement today included internet power houses Amazon and Facebook, which offer valuable credibility to both AMD and the new ARM architecture. Although the presentation emphasizes more traditional enterprise and data center server applications like cloud hosting and HPC that are traditionally x86-based, the new products should also be well suited for embedded server applications like communications that are dominated by other RISC architectures.
As indicated, the announcement does not come as a great surprise to many in the industry. In the summer, AMD announced the license and planned use of ARM’s Cortex-A5 core and TrustZone technology to enhance the security for select x86 processors in the future. The two companies were also founding members of the HSA foundation promoting heterogeneous computing solutions. In addition to the enhanced ARM relationship, the announcement marks AMDs continued transition to an IP-centric company after spinning off its manufacturing group into Globalfoundries.
While the ARM ecosystem has shown interest into expanding into server applications in the past, today’s announcement adds support for that push by coming from a company that is currently a server processor provider and that will be providing both architectures going forward.
If anything, AMD is a valuable anchor and proof point for the entire ARM ecosystem. In addition, unlike the x86 architecture where the products are very similar, the broad ARM ecosystem is likely to bring more differentiation through SoC and network IP, such as AMD’s use of the SeaMicro Freedom fabric, and a more competitive server environment going forward. This is also likely to garner support from other key suppliers to the server market, such as Microsoft, which is already demonstrating strong support for the ARM ecosystem even in PCs.
Even though many of the new products are still two years away and AMD faces many challenges along the way, it is clear that the ARM ecosystem will have a profound impact on the broader computing market going forward.
Founder & Principal Analyst