From the commotion that Dileep Bhandarkar, distinguished engineer in Microsoft's Global Foundation Services made when he mentioned at the Linley Tech Data Center Conference that Microsoft was interested in 16-core versions of Intel's Atom and AMD's Bobcat CPU architectures you would think that the concept of large numbers of low-powered CPUs performing datacenter tasks was a new one.
But in fact it's been almost a year since I started writing about the possibility of Microsoft using Intel Atom architecture or ARM Cortez chips, with lots of cores and in large numbers, as the core CPUs of power miserly servers in energy efficient datacenters (and there have been others who voiced a similar opinion). And the fact that Microsoft announced at CES that there would be a version of Windows for ARM should have been the last piece of the puzzle for anyone concerned about this issue.
But what I hadn't expected was that this could be a make or break moment for Intel. There's no doubt that there will continue to be a need for the latest generation, cutting edge, top performing CPUs, a market that Intel dominates. But it is just as clear that there will be a huge market for energy-efficient lower-powered CPUs running with large numbers of cores or in massive SMP configurations that will allow the bulk of the datacenter tasks that don't require maximum CPU performance.
With Linux already running on ARM processors and the facilities in place to start to deploy large numbers of multi-core SMP servers running Linux on the very energy efficient ARM cores, the time is now for Intel to step up and show that it's serious about this end of the market. Volume can build market dominance just as easily as technology, and it's up to Intel to put themself into a position not to be eclipsed by ARM in the datacenter.