​AMD makes its data center move: Will it be EPYC?

AMD's master plan: Crack the data center via its EPYC server processor, simplify architecture with its GPUs and then grab machine learning and artificial intelligence workloads.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

AMD is plotting a June launch for its EPYC server processor, formerly code-named Naples, as it aims to become a data center leader to go along with its desktop and graphics chips.

For AMD, the data center is it's most promising--and tough to crack--market. Intel dominates the data center, but AMD is betting its architecture and a move to software defined approaches can give it momentum.

Now AMD's immediate future is tied to attacking the PC market with its Ryzen processors and Vega graphics processors. Vega will also be a data center play as AMD outlined machine learning benchmarks. The catch for AMD in the GPU market is that Nvidia has also staked out the artificial intelligence and machine learning use cases.

Add it up and AMD runs into Intel in two areas (PCs and data centers) and Nvidia in the other (GPUs).

Why could the data center market be different this time? Here's AMD's argument:

  • EPYC delivers the Zen x86 processing engine and can scale to 32 cores.
  • AMD will have one-socket servers, but aim to use EPYC in two-socket too. This combination will offer better performance, flexibility and ultimately total cost of ownership. In addition, 91 percent of the x86 server market is single or dual socket based on IDC data.
  • 8 channels of memory per EPYC device.
  • High-performance virtualization.
  • Software defined data centers mean EPYC could play in the storage, server and networking markets.
  • Dedicated security hardware.
  • And a server market driven by cloud providers who are into experimentation with everything from ARM systems, do open hardware approaches to newfangled designs. Dropbox was cited as a customer evaluating EPYC processors.

At AMD's financial analyst day, Forrest Norrod, general manager of enterprise, embedded and semi-custom products, highlighted the following slides:


Now you can see where this is headed. AMD is hoping to go after machine learning and artificial intelligence workloads. Should EPYC be integrated well with AMD's Radeon GPUs it can have a stack that can compete with an Intel-Nvidia real-world combination.

See: AMD's Ryzen 5 threatens Intel's grip on the mainstream PC market | AMD meets Q1 expectations due to strong demand for Ryzen CPUs | AMD unleashes high-performance Ryzen 5 desktop chips | AMD's new Vega graphics architecture goes far beyond gaming | AMD prepares for a datacenter comeback with 'Naples'

Will this master plan work? Who knows. But one thing is clear. Enterprises and cloud giants want more suppliers to drive costs down. If EPYC can win over a few big names with solid use cases, AMD can gain some traction simply because tech buyers will want a counterweight to Intel and increasingly Nvidia.


And AMD is the only provider of high-performance compute and graphics processors.

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