ARM Servers in Data Centers is inevitable

I've been discussing ARM servers in data centers for a while and now it is becoming common in media to ask when will ARM have servers in the data center.  GigaOm is one of those keeping up the momentum.

For ARM, It’s Server Side Up

By Om Malik Jul. 29, 2010, 6:00pm PDT 4 Comments


Ian Drew, executive vice president of marketing at ARM Holdings, a Cambridge, U.K.-based company that makes semiconductors powering a majority of the smartphones, tablets, 70 percent of world’s hard drives and half the world’s printers, is on a whirlwind tour of Silicon Valley. And what everyone (including me) wants to talk to him about is servers, or rather low-power server chips that can power the data centers of tomorrow.

It's not just media, but customers are interested in low power servers.

And what Drew and his cohorts are seeing is a radical revolution in the data centers. “While the x86 world focused on pure megahertz, we have focused on the megahertz per milliwatt,” Drew said during our conversation earlier today. “We focus on quarter-to-half milliwatts as a key metric.” Most of the new devices such as the iPhones don’t have heat sinks in them, he joked.

I think about 2 years ago I was talking to ARM about why they should go into the server business for data centers.  Now they are comfortable making their own pitch on why.

“If you look at our heritage (of low power chips) it makes perfect sense for us to be looking at the servers and the data centers,” said Drew. With “cooling” making up nearly half the capital expenditure and almost two-thirds of the operation expenses, Drew said power is going to be a bigger part of the conversation.

“Everyone is using the Web and the Web is more demanding today which means all of the stuff is going to run through data centers,” he noted. “Two things are very clear: there is going to be a lot of data and need for less power.” By getting the world to buy more edge devices (iPhones, iPads etc.), ARM is at the same boosting demand for back-end computing infrastructure. Now by diversifying into the data center server business, it can make more money selling its low-power chip technology to server makers. In other words, ARM wins on both sides of the trade.

and GigaOm is even watching Microsoft to look at ARM for data centers.

We also reported on a Microsoft job listing that sought a software development engineer with experience running ARM in the data center for the company’s eXtreme Computing group. For the last couple of decades, Intel’s x86 chips have gained dominance in the data center, but as power considerations begin to outweigh the benefits of a cheap, general purpose processor, other chip makers have started to smell blood. Nvidia is pushing its graphics processors for some types of applications, while Texas Instruments is researching the use of DSPs inside servers.

but, as ARM cautions, don't expect product soon.  This is a long term game for ARM, 2 years or more before we see servers in mass.

But don’t expect this to happen overnight, Drew cautioned. “We are going to see some pilots over next year, but this is a long term initiative.” He believes that this long, continuous transition to lower-power server chips is going to take between three to five years. When I asked Drew what are those pilots, he declined to comment. From our reporting, we can easily tell you Microsoft, Smooth Stone and Marvell are experimenting with ARM-based server processors.