Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

Summary: An Intel executive weighed in on the recent chatter about ARM and Atom low-powered processors taking over the server game. The upshot: Low powered processors have a role, but aren't going to make much of a dent in the server market.

SHARE:

An Intel executive weighed in on the recent chatter about ARM and Atom low-powered processors taking over the server game. The upshot: Low powered processors have a role, but aren't going to make much of a dent in the server market.

Speaking at a Morgan Stanley technology and telecommunications conference, Kirk Skaugen, general manager of Intel's data center unit, talked about ARM in servers as well as Atom. Skaugen also talked about the prospects for Atom-powered servers via the likes of SeaMicro, a startup that has been garnering a lot of press of late.

Here's what Skaugen had to say to counter ARM Holdings CEO, who recently had a much more optimistic take about his company's intellectual property prospects in servers.

We've been out talking about Atom and servers for several years to our customers under NDA. And candidly, there hasn't been a lot of interest in that architecture in a broad sense. I could see if you go out four to five years maybe 10% of the total market, give or take a couple percent, could be interested in such an architecture...if Atom is the best micro architecture we'll embrace it. And so we're constantly in the labs going out and asking about these workloads.

From there, Skaugen detailed a Google white paper that concluded that in most cases brawny chips (Xeon) outperform wimpy ones (Atom, ARM).

That said, Skaugen acknowledged there were some cases where Atom servers work in specialized environments.

What SeaMicro has done is they've put 512 Atoms into a 10U form factor. So if everybody in the world took a Xeon and bought an Atom because their servers were underutilized that would be a bad thing for Intel and our OEMs. That's not what we hear from the customers on what they're interested in doing. What they're interested in doing is getting, for example, for dedicated hosting -- let's say they have $140,000 to spend, they're wanting to know how many hosting nodes or how many customers they can host. So what SeaMicro has done is they've said, hey, I'm going to sell a $148,000 Atom server, they put 512 Atoms into a 10U and they say you can buy either I think 89 one-socket Xeons for the same price, 1U pizza box machines, so you can buy 89 1U's or you can buy the single system which has 512 nodes in it.

So what they've done is they've built a blade and that blade has eight Atoms on it and they put this into a 512 socket system. Well for Intel, our share of wallet goes something from 10% dedicated CPUs in that 89 Xeon example to 35% in the SeaMicro example -- 35% share of wallet. Why? Because in the 1U pizza box example you're buying 89 pieces of sheet metal and Intel doesn't make sheet metal, you're plugging in two power cables into the back of every one of those, we don't make power cables. You have fans on every one of those 1Us, we don't make fans. So instead they're just packing more compute into a much more dense form factor. So the reason I'm giving you that detailed explanation is Atom makes good margin for Intel; if the workload actually works that's incredibly good.

From there, Skaugen said ARM has some issues today.

Now what's the challenge that ARM has in that same form factor? Well, it has an instruction set issue. So if you're going to do hosting what application do you host? And what is an application porting effort -- we did application porting with Itanium, it took us about 10 years. Hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars to port about 14,000 applications. ARM has to port for hosting all those applications over. Second challenge is the A9 and the A15 as we know it are 32-bit processors. Microsoft only supports 64-bit operating systems today. So I'd encourage you to go ask Microsoft what their position is on 32-bit operating systems. But I think they're pretty firm on their 64-bit. So it's an instruction set issue as well as a 64-bit issue. Everything we do in servers for real servers will be 64-bit.

Related: SeaMicro: Welcome to the world of $148K Atom servers

ARM Holdings' 2015 plan: Grab PC, server share

Topics: Hardware, Intel, Processors, Servers

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

20 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • well.. Windows won't run on 512 CPUs

    Windows won't run on 512 CPUs.

    And definitely doesn't on ARM right now.

    But Linux and Linux applications don't have a problem with either platform, or many others.
    jessepollard
    • Yes

      @jessepollard

      So much for the claims that Linux is a 'hobbyist' OS.

      It IS the go to OS for real professionals.
      Tim Patterson
    • Of course it does. The max number of cpu sockets is just a config setting.

      right now they have skus that range from 1 to 4 to 8 to 64. they can change that in a second if there's a 512 cpu server market.
      Johnny Vegas
      • That is why Windows is a non-starter. Who wants to beg them, then pay

        through the nose for more CPUs???? Linux works better for almost all workloads, and you can forget Microsoft leading you around by the ding-a-ling and pulling money out of your pockets at every opportunity.
        DonnieBoy
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @jessepollard Do you have any idea what you are talking about? What processing load can you think of to throw at 512 CPUs? Some game? Ripping DVDs? The fact is that most developers in this world don't know how to program for parallel processing. This is partially why virtualization is so successful. The VMs out there are taking the computing power available and cutting it down to the size that the developers of software can effectively use. The usage of 512 CPUs goes straight into enterprise wide OLTP or BI applications and most companies are way too screwed up to have applications that central to their business to use this much computing power. You can run a $10B business today on a couple of 4CPU 8 Core Nehalems, ok so not a couple, but about 10 or so. I know...I am doing it now....512 CPU stuff is just a joke for most most most installations.
      mikies
      • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

        @mikies Sorry, you don't know what you are talking about. Hosting many connections for a large website is a highly parallel operation - perfect for many cores and not hard to program for at all. The reason that Niagra UltraSparc does so very well at Webhosting is that it has many cores and 4 threads per core. Companies like Google, Microsoft, HP and others all do this through thousands of servers clustered together. Approaches like SeaMicro's is an attempt to get higher compute density.

        Yes you could run a $10B business today on a few CPUs as long as IT requirements are not very high but you won't host a high traffic website like that.
        DevGuy_z
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @jessepollard Right. What's funny is a 350mhz Broadcomm based consumer router running embedded linux makes a pretty good samba server when you plug a drive in the usb port. Plug in a hub and then you can host plug in printers too.
      LarsDennert
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @jessepollard Yes, but it doesnt matter, because the majority of the server market is Linux.
      Jimster480
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @jessepollard True but you still have memory issues with a 32 bit processor. Unless you do clustering with 64 cpu's per server. Something Windows does do on some very large systems. #4 fastest computer in the world can run Windows.
      DevGuy_z
  • Companies like Google could re-compile their applications for Arm in a

    heartbeat. The application porting is a non-issue for most. Though Google has stated for most workloads, they do not want wimpy cores, as they need the non-parallelized portions to run as fast as possible in order to return the results as fast as possible.

    But, that said, Google should have all kinds of workloads where response time is not critical, and they will probably move some workloads to Arm.
    DonnieBoy
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @DonnieBoy Yeah...do you really know what you are talking about? Look at UNIX world. All the vendors could recompile their appps...reality is that IBM and AIX are taking over the UNIX world and in a very near future HP-UX and Solaris will be a memory like OS/2. There is just no business sense in doing what you are proposing. Most businesses are in existence to make money, not to be principle worriors.
      mikies
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @DonnieBoy There may be more issues than simply recompiling. Memory access may be an issue. ARMs historically haven't been hooked to Gigs of memory. AMD, Intel and IBM have been working on memory latency issues for years. ARMs have been in the embedded world. I suspect it will take a while before ARMs work well in a server environment. In the mean time Intel has been lowering the power requirements of its processors and increasing performance.
      DevGuy_z
  • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

    First and foremost Intel is protecting its market share against the encroaching ARM chips, in both the consumer and the enterprise markets. Intel itself at this time would not advocate Windows or Linux for its Xeon- and Atom-based servers; it will leave that debate for its clients.
    Tech watcher
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @Tech watcher True, and it should. It may need to worry a bit in the consumer space but in the server space I think memory latency maybe a show blocker for ARM for a few years. There's no hyperTransport or DirectPathInterconnect for ARM
      DevGuy_z
  • Twisted logic

    The were obviously trying to let the journalist look into the wrong direction.

    The real threat is in the market for small companies.
    small footprint and small eco footprint,cheap and cool low traffic web servers, file servers, mail servers, etc.
    For those companies, everything else is overkill anyway.
    The biggest challenge is exchange (mail) and databases for business software,thus server software, but many of those companies are not using exchange and using hosted (outsourced) business tools.
    raggi
  • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

    Intel should learn to innovate or it will go by the wayside. Case in point, the Meego problem.
    jkohut
  • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

    ARM is probably going to be the way, but for every way is cost, and for cost is risk, for risk is sometimes success. Intel is smart to scare people away, but if they are scaring people away from ARM then there is a Reason they see, even if it isn't public knowledge. As Cell Phones get dropped into the public eye, we are seering what ARM can do, just look at the Ghz Speed in some of the phones out there, and then think about the functionality that Phone has. The Public in the PC world are ignorant and scare though, as we should this will be an expensive cross over, for buiness and home users!!
    Ez_Customs
    • RE: Intel on ARM servers: Wimpy cores niche at best

      @Ez_Customs

      "just look at the Ghz Speed in some of the phones out there"

      PCs crossed the 1 GHz line a long time ago, I don't even know if you can buy that slow for a new desktop PC anymore. Even netbooks are faster than 1 GHz.

      "and then think about the functionality that Phone has"

      With a cramped keyboard, a tiny screen, and a slow CPU. Not to mention [b]not[/b] being able to do a gazillion things because the telephone companies want control over everything. And let's not forget expensive data plans which mean you'll only be watching YouTube and downloading apps when you're in a WiFi hotspot.

      It's unlikely IMO that cell phones will render PCs obsolete. They are very small, cramped devices, and I'd rather have a larger device when at work or home. The small form factor works fine for occasional use, but not so well for full time work.

      . . . and what is a comment like this doing in an article about servers, anyways?
      CobraA1
  • Microsoft gets it while Intel doesn't?

    "Microsoft only supports 64-bit operating systems today. So I?d encourage you to go ask Microsoft what their position is on 32-bit operating systems."

    Dunno about Microsoft, but my position is "welcome to the future."

    64 bit + ARM announcement tells me that perhaps Microsoft feels held back by Intel?
    CobraA1
  • ARM has been in the embedded world for sometime.

    I don't think it will be easy to move to a server environment where memory is real important. I do think they will get there eventually but x86, PowerPc and ultraSparc? aren't standing still. Performance is rising and power requirements are going down. Secondly ARM doesn't make chips they license the technology. Intel has such a license and could make ARMs. And Intel is king of manufacturing. They could make the smallest, cheapest ARMs ever.
    DevGuy_z