Datacenter Trends

Qualcomm Demos First 10-Nanometer Server Processor

The ARM-based chip is being targeted at large players, like Amazon and Google, that are looking to lower the cost of building massive datacenters.

The ARM-based chip is being targeted at large players, like Amazon and Google, who are looking to cheapen the cost of building massive datacenters.  

Calling it the server processor that will "reshape the future of datacenter computing," Qualcomm conducted a live demonstration of the world's first 10-nanometer (10nm) server processor last week. Two years in the making, the ARM-based Centriq 2400 server chips are available now for sampling by a few Qualcomm customers, and the company plans to make them commercially available in the second half of 2017.

The Centriq 2400 is the first ARM-based server processor built on a 10nm process node, said Anand Chandrasekher, SVP and GM of Qualcomm's Datacenter Technologies group, in a blog post. The chip was "purpose-built for performance-oriented datacenter applications," he said. He demonstrated the processor on the company's software development platform running a "typical datacenter application" configured with Linux, Java and Apache Spark.

The Centriq 2400, the first offering of a planned product family, will have up to 48 cores and be a single-socket part. The chip is being built on 10nm FinFET 3D multi-gate process technology, and will feature a custom ARMv8 CPU core (called Falkor) optimized for server workloads. Falkor was designed specifically for the Centriq line, Chandrasekher said.

"We understand the importance of a healthy software ecosystem in the datacenter," Chandrasekher said. "As such, Falkor was designed from day one to be [Server Base System Architecture] compliant, which ensures that software that runs on any ARMv8 server platform would also be able to run on a Qualcomm Centriq 2400-based server platform (and vice-versa)."

The San Diego, Calif.-based mobile chipmaker is making a big bet on the ARM architecture, which has so far barely made a dent in the server chip market. In his blog post, Chandrasekher cites four datacenter trends his company expects to drive demand for the new chips: the momentum of cloud adoption, which is changing the way servers are purchased; a major power shift in the supply chain (caused by the cloud migration), with mega datacenters sourcing server platforms directly from original design manufacturers (ODMs); the growing presence of open source software in the datacenter, which will allow ARM ecosystem partners to implement support for ARMv8; and the impact of mobile on the pace of manufacturing process evolution (PC volumes have declined and mobile volumes have exploded).

Currently Intel virtually rules the server chip market, and ARM server chips have not fared well; AMD, for example, seems to have put its ARM chips on hold in favor of its new x86-based Zen server chip, due next year. Qualcomm has said Centriq will be competitive with Intel's Xeon server chip performance, while delivering lower energy consumption. It's worth noting that the Centriq processors will be hitting the market approximately a year before Intel's planned 10nm server chip offering.

The company is reportedly looking to potential customers such as Facebook, Google and Amazon, which are building mega datacenters, and might find ARM server chips an attractive alternative. (Google and Amazon are reportedly test driving the chips now.) And some software support has emerged, most notably from Linaro, which develops Linux-based software packages for the ARM architecture.

It remains to be seen how Qualcomm's new partnership with Microsoft with affect this strategy. The two companies made some headlines recently with a demonstration of Qualcomm's ARM-based Snapdragon processors running the full version of the Windows 10 operating system. And then there's the deal with Google to combine the Android Things IoT operating system with the Snapdragon chips.

About the Author

John K. Waters is the editor in chief of a number of sites, with a focus on high-end development, AI and future tech. He's been writing about cutting-edge technologies and culture of Silicon Valley for more than two decades, and he's written more than a dozen books. He also co-scripted the documentary film Silicon Valley: A 100 Year Renaissance, which aired on PBS.  He can be reached at [email protected].


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