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It is well known that chip designers like Advanced Micro Devices and Intel Corp. offer customized microprocessors to companies like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google in a bid to win large-scale contracts for their Opteron and Xeon products. However, the day, when web giants decide that the time has come for fully-custom, or at least semi-custom, chips for their scalable datacenters is not far.

Just several years ago three server giants – HP, Dell and IBM – generally commanded the market with industry-standard offerings that suited most businesses. Nowadays there are companies like Apple, Facebook, Google or Microsoft, who run massive cloud datacenters and require customized equipment. Some companies – Facebook and Google – even assemble their custom servers in-house. In a bid to solve specific problems, microprocessors inside servers for these large customers are specifically tailored for their needs. The second round of customization will not only involve some customization of microprocessors and I/O, but will likely include made-to-order chips with specially designed I/O and even processing engines, according to Andrew Feldman, general manager of SeaMicro and corporate vice president at AMD.

At present Mr. Feldman seems to be a strong believer in ARM architecture and its ability to be adapted for different needs. He foresees that many leading web-scale companies will need specially tailored processing cores that will deliver maximum amount of performance at minimum power requirements as well as very scalable input/output technologies that are built into chips.

“This vast change in the cost and time to market opens the door for large CPU consumers (mega data center players) to collaborate with ARM CPU vendors – say by paying part of the cost of development – in return for including custom IP that advantages the Mega Data center owners software/offering. There are conversations underway on this topic with nearly every major megadata center player in the world. The mega data center owners are building warehouse scale computers. It is not surprising that they have ideas on custom IP that would advantage their own software and would like that IP embedded into a CPU – ARM makes this feasible by bringing down the cost and development time of CPU creation,” said Mr. Feldman in an interview with GigaOM web-site.

The high-ranking AMD executive estimated that one could build an entirely custom chip using the ARM architecture in about 18 months for about $30 million. By contrast, it takes three or four-year time frame and $300 million to $400 million in development costs required to build an x86-based server chip based on a new micro-architecture.

Many datacenter giants already have a number of chip specialists and are looking at co-developing ARM-based chips that will take advantage of the greater levels of customization offered outside of the CPU so they can optimize for their own applications’ needs. At the same time, he does not reveal how will AMD and Intel behave in a situation when their largest customers essentially become their rivals in at least some ways.

Tags: ARM, Intel, AMD, Xeon, Opteron, Business, Amazon, Google, Facebook, HP, Dell, IBM, Apple, Microsoft

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Comments currently: 10
Discussion started: 07/10/13 11:12:40 PM
Latest comment: 07/13/13 11:18:46 AM
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0 6 [Posted by: AnonymousGuy  | Date: 07/10/13 11:12:40 PM]
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You are perhaps missing the point. Intel, or AMD for that matter, are able to design power and cost competitive parts, that are equal or superior for general purpose computing. However, with ARM based designs, Google, Facebook, etc, can get a processor that includes hardware optimisations, specifically for THEIR software stack. Like having your own application specific SSE-like or AVX-like instructions. It's like the difference between say mpeg decoding/encoding with hardware acceleration or purely in software. And, at the same time you get improved power efficiency.
For a sneak peak of this approach, take a look at Apple processors: with Apple specific optimisations. Using ARM, or more precisely RISC (so MIPS too potentially), enables a tailormade approach that sidesteps all the advantages of a CISC (i.e. x86) approach. These cloud datacenters are not so interested in "general purpose" computing - in a similar way that you wouldn't use x86 architecture for most embedded, purpose specific, applications. Last year ARM architecture was deployed in 8 billion processors...that's 8 BILLION in just last year alone. The more you can be purpose specific, the more you can save on silicon (i.e. manufacturing cost), power usage (i.e. cost in use) and at the same time potentially push performance beyond what a generic solution can offer.
6 1 [Posted by: mjv1121  | Date: 07/11/13 12:24:58 AM]
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Exactly, Amazon, Facebook and Google will have ARM based server chips installed on Open source hardware platforms! These ARM based chips will be designed with some custom features, but overall, and to save costs, these server platforms will be assembled with Industry Standard Open hardware and OSs! Google has switched to using Debian Wheezy, and Linux will be the Industry Standard OS of choice for all the major players! As far as having a trained workforce, these standardized platforms will allow all companies involved access to an already trained workforce, so employees trained in using this Industry Standard hardware and OSs, will be immediately employable by any company that uses the technology! No more will these companies be at the mercy of specific OEMs or Microsoft, and others!
It is just a matter of time before the rest of the industry's smaller players begin to adopt this technology, as the major players will have invested in the Development of the new open software/hardware paradigm, that the smaller companies could not afford to develop on their own!
2 0 [Posted by: BigChiefRunAmok  | Date: 07/11/13 09:58:19 AM]
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0 3 [Posted by: Tukee44  | Date: 07/10/13 11:28:08 PM]
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Nope, the real message is that AMD is in a unique position with both x86 and ARM licenses along with the best graphics IP, HSA IP and a custom SoC design team. AMD can design and have built custom SoC designs for any customer.
2 1 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 07/11/13 03:16:15 AM]
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and that's what they are advertising to those companies, their ability to make custom things at a great price.
They kinda did it already with the 3 console chips(wii's got only an amd gpu).
in the end that's their bet on the server market, "we build what you order". It is also what the new bulldozer architecture was planned to deliver with the new module concept.
1 0 [Posted by: Yorgos  | Date: 07/11/13 05:13:01 AM]
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This sort of talk is aimed at investors. Behind the scenes AMD would be knocking down the doors of these companies.
0 1 [Posted by: linuxlowdown  | Date: 07/11/13 05:56:19 AM]
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3. 
Hey! Can we get rid of this advertising fuck?
2 2 [Posted by: TopHatKiller  | Date: 07/11/13 09:58:14 AM]
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