HP: ARM chips could handle a fifth of server workloads

Low-power chip architectures, such as ARM's Risc processors, could serve up to 20 percent of the server workload market by 2015, HP believes, posing a threat to x86 incumbent Intel
Written by Jack Clark, Contributor on

HP thinks low-powered chips, such as those made by ARM, could deal with up to 20 percent of server workloads by 2015.

David Donatelli HP

HP's David Donatelli has said that low-power chips, such as those made by ARM, could deal with up to 20 percent of server loads. Photo credit: HP

The company believes Project Moonshot, its attempt to change the server market by developing low-power systems based initially around ARM processors, could take on a significant proportion of workloads, it said on Wednesday.

"It's going to be like any big change," David Donnatelli, the company's general manager for servers, storage and networking, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday at HP Discover in Vienna. "The service providers in the large internet companies will go first... they'll go as soon as [ARM-based servers] are available."

By 2015 between 15 to 20 percent of the server market could be dealt with by low-power processors from ARM, Intel's Atom range and, potentially, future processors from AMD, he said.

Intel, faced with server manufacturers' growing interest in ARM  — which announced a 64-bit chip architecture in October, a crucial technology for going beyond smartphones — has argued that the costs of creating code on other platforms could be prohibitive for developers.

But HP thinks that high-level applications are going to become agnostic when it comes to the chip types on which they run. "Past applications have really been tied to a specific task," Donnatelli said. "Now they're going to get the freedom to move. You'll have an infrastructure layer but the applications [that run on top of it] by definition have portability at the same time."

Donnatelli also said that with the growing capabilities of non-x86 processors it will get easier for developers to write trans-architecture apps "that won't have as many restrictions". However, he did admit "you have to separate current generation applications and next-generation applications".

Project Moonshot gives ARM a lift

HP launched Project Moonshot in November. The company sees this as a very "disruptive" move, Donnatelli said, as power concerns become more and more of a pressing issue for large internet companies.

In the nearer term, HP thinks Project Moonshot could be relevant for a small but important class of applications.

"I do believe that anywhere between 12 and 15 percent of the workloads can benefit from a Moonshot approach and the use of low-power chips," Jim Ganthier, HP's vice president of marketing for Industry Standard Servers and Software, told ZDNet UK on Wednesday. "[But] I don't see this becoming the standard, I don't see this taking over everything."

Applications for unstructured data, web servers and basic caching ones all stand to benefit from low-power — and typically lower clock-speed — processors, he said.

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