SAN JOSE, Calif. – Add Qualcomm to the list of ARM server SoC designers. The smartphone chip designer is advertising at least three software engineering jobs that clearly state its intentions.
Applicants will work on "architecture/design and system prototypes of Qualcomm's new ARMv8-based server SOC ASICs for the power optimized server market," the ads say. "Primary responsibilities include specification, development, porting, integration and shakeout of server platform management software and firmware on prototypes utilizing Qualcomm’s new SOC."
The ARMv8 is a reference to ARM's next-generation 64-bit capable instruction set architecture. The ability to handle 64-bit addresses is key for server processors.
Qualcomm is at least the eighth company now known to be working on ARM server SoCs. Others with announced or known plans include AMD, Applied Micro, Cavium, Calxeda, Marvell, Nvidia and Samsung.
Huawei posted job openings for ARM server engineers last year. However, it was not clear if the company is designing systems, SoCs or both. Texas Instruments rolled out ARM server SoCs, but is targeting "purpose-built" embedded systems, not data centers.
The companies known to be preparing ARM server chips generally aim to start shipping 64-bit SoCs in 2014. Calxeda and Marvell are shipping 32-bit SoCs for servers today with limited traction, mainly in prototyping systems for Dell, Hewlett-Packard and Taiwan’s Mitac.
The Qualcomm software jobs appear to be mainly in Raliegh, N.C., although at least one also lists postings in Austin and San Diego, Qualcomm’s headquarters.
The ARM site lists 49 Mobile SOC IP vendors, that would be too many by how much in your opinion?
That's the ARM way, lots of vendors, competing often by carving out a unique niche in the ecosystem.
I guess maybe twice to three times, 16-32 ARM server vendors is possible. Think of the different things servers may do. The silicon needed for a render farm is different to a mass video encoding (YouTube) . Different again to a highly transactional database (banking), again to Data Wharehouse analytics. All with different compute, data latency, data throughput requirements.
Efficiency through specialisation.
What exactly is an ARM server chip? ARMv8 with 10G networking? Seems like a good combo for embedded networking applications also. Seems to me the best approach is still to provide a selection of generic, expandable interfaces, and most roadmaps I've seen (and I've seen quite a few) the chips will offer PCIe, USB3, SATA and 1G in addition to 10G or more.
I think you may be right as far as the number of vendors who end up inside the bulk of server shipments, but again, what exactly is an ARM server chip anyway?
Sure, as that's true of any industry. The "problem" is we don't know which it will be, and they'll have to battle it out. I don't really see Qualcomm as a server company, though. I don't think they have their hearts in it. Nvidia, Applied Micro and either Calxeda or AMD will be the third.
But again, it's very premature to call it out now. We still have at least 5 major players (Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, Mediatek and Apple) in the mobile chip market, and it's a much more mature market than the ARM server market, so we're a long way until we know for sure.
David Patterson, known for his pioneering research that led to RAID, clusters and more, is part of a team at UC Berkeley that recently made its RISC-V processor architecture an open source hardware offering. We talk with Patterson and one of his colleagues behind the effort about the opportunities they see, what new kinds of designs they hope to enable and what it means for today’s commercial processor giants such as Intel, ARM and Imagination Technologies.