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Advanced Micro Devices is clearly very optimistic about the success of micro-servers in general and ARM-based Opteron processors for ultra-dense market segment in particular. However, financial analysts have mixed feelings about AMD’s plan to make ARM-powered products for servers.

The main concerns the analysts have is that the actual total available market of micro-servers will be significant over years from now, AMD ARM-powered Opteron microprocessors are still over a year away and given the current situation, the short-term business is more important for money-losing AMD. Moreover, the success of the company on the crowded market is not cast in stone to say at least.

Relationships with Server Makers and Graphics Capabilities – Important Trumps

The main advantage over competing chip design companies that AMD might have is its relationship with various server manufacturers. Additionally, AMD has strong capabilities in emerging heterogeneous processing trend thanks to its graphics chip division and its high-end graphics processing units, which have already found way into consumer accelerated processing units and are in route into server chips and will also help AMD to make relevant system-on-chips for tablets.

“While these new server processors are not expected to be in the market until 2014, we believe the directional change at least opens the door on a path for AMD to return to growth. […] In servers, the company’s historic relationships, architecture experience, and graphics strength should give the company a material advantage [...] In tablets, we expect the company will eventually also offer ARM-based alternatives to its current tablet platform. While tablets could be a material driver, we are less enthusiastic because of the customer concentration issues and the significant level of entrenched competition. With servers, all the players will be starting from about the same point,” wrote Cody Acree, an analyst with Williams Financial Group, in a note to clients, reports Tech Trader Daily blog.

ARM’s Performance per Watt Advantage May Help New Opterons

In general, the Wall Street analysts agree that ARM architecture could have tangible advantages when it comes to ultra low-power server chips over x86 architecture.

“While the server ecosystem for ARM is still in early days, and ARM’s success in server compute is far from certain, ARM’s proven success in low power/mobile platforms could potentially translate into some compelling performance/watt cost reductions for server compute beyond what is currently available from x86 – likely the motivation behind previously announced HP/Dell development efforts based on ARM-based CPUs from Calxeda,” wrote John Pitzer, an analyst from Credit Suisse.

War of Standards May Hamper Crowded Micro-Server Market Development

But also, analysts note that there will be loads of players on the market of server chips, including Applied Micro, Calxeda, Nvidia Corp. and other. Calxeda’s Lago ARMv8 chip with enhanced fabric able to connect hundreds of thousands of nodes, with quality of service features and the ability to allocate and control resources seems to be rather formidable rival for whatever AMD might offer. Nvidia’s project Boulder (which seems to be a predecessor for exascale project called Echelon) is designed to compete against current AMD Opteron and Intel Xeon in terms of performance and therefore represents even more threat for AMD’s low-power Opterons since it naturally can scale down in terms of power consumption.


Moreover, as the market will really be crowded, potentially that could lead to slow development of ARM-based micro-servers due to the battle of standards and incompatibilities.

“[The ARM server plans announcement] seems to be a mild positive for AMD, but the jury is still out, and likely will be for some time. [...] Standalone 64-bit ARM is going to be a crowded market, and it is not clear that there will be market demand for a combination product (if that is even in the roadmap),” said Daniel Berenbaum with MKM Partners.


Short-Term Future of AMD Remains Unclear

But the main problem for AMD and its ARM server chips endeavor is not competition or uncertainties with the micro-server market in general. The main concern is whether AMD can survive before it rolls-out Opteron processors with ARM architecture. Ironically, we do know what AMD readies for launch sometimes in 2014, but we do not know what the company is getting ready to release next year.

“We do not expect to see any products coming out of this new partnership with ARM for at least 18 months, and management readily admitted that this would be a 3-5 year process. Given the state of their core business, however, we are not sure they have that much time – we forecast significant cash burn and balance sheet deterioration through much of the next five quarters,” wrote Stacy Rasgon, an analyst with Bernstein Research.

Tags: AMD, ARM, Opteron, SeaMicro, Freedom, Steamroller, Excavator, Jaguar, ARMv8


Comments currently: 28
Discussion started: 11/01/12 02:41:52 PM
Latest comment: 07/13/16 11:07:10 AM
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I dont see micro servers taking off, because they're likely to be proprietary nightmares that only large enterprise and govt contracts can handle / waste money on. Maybe it will remain a niche like itanium, but I dont think that ends up helping AMD very significantly. Would love to know what percentage of servers are sold as blades currently. And Fabric ideas have been around for years, but never been very popular due to price / proprietary issues.

This article also mentions AMD's graphics helping them in the server market, and while that is deffinetly possible, I havent heard of AMD investing any money into server specific designs of their chips / or any sort of GPU compute chips designed for micro server / lower power applications. So while Intel is working on MIC, havent heard anything similar from AMD, and doubt they have the budget to work on something like that (although it could be a very easy thing to design from their current graphics product knowledge).
1 2 [Posted by: cashkennedy  | Date: 11/01/12 02:41:52 PM]
- collapse thread

AMD's APU has GPU compute C++ support now and GPU compute contex switch (compute optimised for non-GPU specific code) will come to Excavator APU core in 2014. Not sure if this tech will filter down to lower power cores - can't find information anywhere at this time.

13 8 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/02/12 12:46:39 AM]
It's sad that your being voted down for that comment, when it was informative, and not biased.

I agree the technology is there / they have it on the high end products. But do they have the money / engineers to develop this down to the low end, and to optimize it well enough for lower power servers apus.
1 1 [Posted by: cashkennedy  | Date: 11/02/12 11:52:58 AM]
The thing I'm unsure about is how much overhead the GPU compute adds to an APU chip - will it be too much for a low power purpose chip? I think we will definitely have a better idea of this by 2014.
10 2 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/03/12 05:09:15 AM]
And to add things to the mix, what about the HSA that they announced? I think this article could of went deeper. I would like to hear more please.
0 0 [Posted by: dreamer77dd  | Date: 11/04/12 06:33:03 AM]

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1 12 [Posted by: Azazel  | Date: 11/01/12 09:21:55 PM]
- collapse thread

"Plus, ARM is cheap and low margin. AMD needs to sell many times more ARM chips than current Opterons just to get the same revenue"

They are called dense microservers because... they pack tightly lots of ARM chips inside. A small amount of R&D will be spent on getting the stock ARM processor integrated with the Freedom Fabric. If it does well, then they may consider spending R&D on an optimised ARM design. But that's highly doubtful because AMD themselves have been quoted as saying that they reckon ARM will have the edge for only about 5 years. So x86 is still the future for AMD. They're just looking where they can make profits where there is not much competition.
13 8 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/02/12 12:15:05 AM]
show the post
1 11 [Posted by: Azazel  | Date: 11/02/12 02:13:27 AM]
It's all about power efficiency (the monthly electriciy bill) and running non GPU-compute software in maximum paraellelism. A webserver that needs to search and find for example, your mug shot taken on Saturday night at the pub to display on your Facebook page, doesn't need to be incredibly powerful. This kind of search job scales better with more threads rather than more raw GHz. A dense microserver gives you lots more threads (with acceptable CPU processing) for your electricity. The microsever concept does not apply to massive computation, for example modeling climate change or predicting human behaviour and the flow of money in economic models.

Here's a quote from

"With ARM revealing that in 2014, a 64-bit architecture offering three-fold performance, scalable down to 14nm will be available, Intel is likely to run into some serious competition..."

We'll have to see.
11 8 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/02/12 02:28:39 AM]
You do realize ARM isn't that far behind x86 right? If you take an x86 Intel Atom core at 1Ghz and compare it to an older 1Ghz ARM core, the ARM actually defeated x86 in all benchmarks in the Phoronix benchmark suite. Given a few more instruction sets, scale it to size of a server processor, use fabric to interconnect that, you now have the best server processor on the planet. As for desktop processors, you could have ARM cores designed to run specific instructions in programs to reduce power consumption.
11 5 [Posted by: mmstick  | Date: 11/02/12 05:09:13 AM]

Welcome to the end of AMD this is just the start.
6 7 [Posted by: 123  | Date: 11/01/12 10:49:20 PM]
- collapse thread

maybe we are lucky and you will die with them...
11 8 [Posted by: 63jax  | Date: 11/01/12 11:58:56 PM]
He and his family will face starving to death, being forced to sacrifice their last dollar for a hyperinflated Celeron, once AMD is gone. He might have a chance to live if he will be able to secure any of the remaining 1GHz Via's instead. But that's doubtful as the Taiwanese will keep them for themselves. More realistically, he will be down on his knees begging Rory Read for a spare old backroom APU or two, giving a grovelling apology for trolling on Xbitlabs.
13 9 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/02/12 12:26:37 AM]
...i can't understand their obsessions and fanboism, i think is the age...
7 9 [Posted by: 63jax  | Date: 11/02/12 12:44:12 AM]
Internet forums are increasingly being manipulated for vested interests. Obviously, some people here making comments are AMD or Intel shareholders, such as myself (I have always declared it). But not everyone is fair or balanced in their opinions or criticisms because they are plainly only interested in influencing public opinion positively regarding their backed investment and negatively its competitor(s). They're the ones that can't mount a sensible argument and write in sound bites or give throw away lines, like politicians.
13 8 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/02/12 01:00:46 AM]
...they don't know how to make an compelling argument without insulting and cursing everyone else, this is their level of education 0!
10 6 [Posted by: 63jax  | Date: 11/02/12 01:19:55 AM]
I can live with people saying things tongue in cheek or in a humorous and entertaining way occasionally because it's always fun to take the piss out of anything. But a couple of the two headed trolls here, AvONbaCK (aka Avonx and username now banned) and 123 (aka jmlxg and username now banned) are systematically childish, extremely rude, insulting and use vilifiying language. There is no place anywhere for this - it is accepted in no culture or part of life.
12 7 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/02/12 02:15:29 AM]
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0 3 [Posted by: 123  | Date: 11/02/12 05:57:45 AM]
Seriously, there's no writing on the wall. Things are definitely competitively difficult for AMD at the moment. Now take a step back 123. You need to understand the bigger picture. AMD's IP is a matter of American national security. The American government will not allow AMD to fail or be purchased/controlled by foreign interests like its major Arab backer, Iran or China. As much as you diss this company for whatever reason, if AMD IP were to fall into the hands of the Chinese, that would really be Intel's nightmare. But you say that the x86 licence is not transferable? It's only a bloody licence. The Chinese pumped out MIPS chips without a licence. They will do whatever they want once they get the blue prints. America could never and will never take on China's might, even now in the face of them fixing their currency sending America into deep prolonged recession. AMD will never fail and will never be left to fail (ever wondered what government contracts were partly about?). It is a great American tech innovator giving its country and allies like mine the edge. Now cut the crap.
10 2 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 11/03/12 06:03:57 AM]

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0 11 [Posted by: Azazel  | Date: 11/03/12 08:54:12 PM]

show the post
0 11 [Posted by: tedstoy  | Date: 11/04/12 03:31:03 PM]


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