In spite of announcing new products in both the low-power and higher-end markets, Intel finds itself in a somewhat reactive stance as well. “Beyond Avoton is Denverton, a 14-nm part which isn’t scheduled to come out until the end of next year or maybe beyond then,” said Gwennap. “So I think Intel is relying on Avoton or Denverton. I think what they want to do is assess the first generation of ARM products shipping next year and see what they need to do in order to respond to that.”
Aside from the CPU, other components including switches continue to animate the dynamics of the market. “Interconnect is the second biggest thing in the market after CPUs because it converts a single core in the PC into something that’s more of a server class solution," said Envisioneering Group contributing analyst Peter Glaskowsky.
Coherency is very critical to the software model. Whether it will have a large number of small coherency domain or a small number of large coherency domain. This is the difference between the single memory servers we used to have and server-based clustering solutions. Clustering does have an influence on the software model. Some problems can’t be effectively managed with these solutions. Microservers historically have used a clustering method to scale out.
This aspect of the technology itself poses a set of issues for Intel as well as its rivals. “Coherency has its own kind of problems,” Glaskowsky said.
It costs a lot of power. The coherency and interconnects question go to the heart of the problem. Some companies will be fine with the difference in software model between a single memory image model and a cluster model and some won’t be fine with it and that may have a lot to do with how large the microserver market can be. If they can only address a certain part of the market then the question is how large a part of the market that is.
According to Skillern, Intel has a common instruction set that spans out of its architecture, whether commercial or open source. “That consistency in our SoCs in our product line and in our architecture allows us to allow developers to easily run our software without optimization,” Skillern said.
Intel’s advantage remains the diversity of products it has in its portfolio compared to companies using low-power SoCs to try to break into a market Intel has long dominated with its x86 architecture. “Intel will likely continue to span a wider range of CPU performance than ARM, but it's these accelerators that may make the bigger difference going forward, and Intel has not been particularly dominant in that area to date,” said Glaskowsky. "Broadwell’s big advantage is performance per core,” he added. “As far as performance per watt than Avoton and Denverton products will be better. I don’t think Broadwell really changes anything in that regard.”
Outside of microservers, it therefore seems, Intel maintains a strong position -- one that it is looking to leverage in order to break through in microservers. “That is the other part of the server market, the main part,” Gwennap said. “Intel is continuing to dominate that part of the market. AMD hasn’t put up much competition with their Opteron products. in the mainstream of the market. Haswell is moving to Broadwell next year. 2p and 4p products are based on the old products so we will see some new Ivy Bridge-based products coming out for the multi-socket market.”
Nevertheless, there is one remaining problem for Intel to address: the overlap between its Atom and Xeon processors as Atom becomes more powerful moving forward. The company may need to increase the number of cores or increase its servers to compete with ARM on the lower end, and at some point that may undercut its traditional lineup.
“This has always been a problem since Intel has had multiple product lines,” Glaskowsky said.
The question is how do they overlap and how do you manage that overlap, since there has been something on the upper-end and something on the lower-end. It’s the same question with ARM who always had the lower-performance and power level. Intel is going to have to bring up the Atom line in performance to remain competitive with ARM and that causes conflict with Xeon. Itanium was really the high end, and Intel has financial obligations to people who supported them with Itanium, like HP, but they aren’t putting a lot of effort into it.
In spite of any perceived weakness, the world’s leading chipmaker continues to play to its strengths. “We are in our second–generation and we have an SoC which we believe is providing leading value in terms of performance and price,” Skillern said. “We are bringing product efficiency and cost efficiency across our product line.”
— Zewde Yeraswork, Associate Editor, EE Times