SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Microsoft is testing ARM server SoCs from Cavium, Qualcomm and at least one other supplier, boosting their hopes of cutting into the lucrative dominance of Intel’s x86 in servers.
The data center giant made the announcement at the annual gathering of the Open Compute Project (OCP) here, where Facebook unveiled a refreshed line of servers. Both Facebook and Microsoft announced accelerator systems using NVLink to connect eight Nvidia’s Pascal chips.
Separately, IBM showed the first boards using its Power 9 processor. They were supported by new Xilinx FPGAs and 100 Gbit/second Ethernet switches from Mellanox all riding the new PCI Express Gen 4 link that Power 9 is the first CPU to support.
Overall, the event showed increasing activity and fragmentation in data center hardware. OCP now has 195 members and an online store with 70 products, some not yet providing open hardware design files. Even the latest motherboards from top-tier members Facebook and Microsoft sported radically different designs.
Microsoft’s move to evaluate ARM-based servers was the big surprise of the show.
As part of its tests, Microsoft ported to ARM a set of production applications from its Azure cloud services as well as its .Net application framework and a version of Windows Server for internal use only. It also helped Qualcomm and Cavium design motherboards for its Project Olympus standard.
After initial evaluations in its Redmond, Washington, labs, more than 200 of the new motherboards will be tested as part of a small cluster in a facility in Asia. The company provided no details of its early results or how long the test would last.
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Kushagra Vaid (left) and Leendort Van Doorn of Microsoft show a Qualcomm ARM server board at OCP. (Images: EE Times)