Samsung may have key role in ARM server stakes

It's a bit unclear whether there are enough large horses to make ARM servers commonplace in the data center today. If Samsung entered the market either to manufacture processors or launch systems, the game would change.

Data centers are increasingly eyeing servers with ARM-based processors for power savings and lower costs uniquely designed for so-called hyperscale environments. But before ARM servers really take off, there will have to be a chip manufacturer that can rival Intel and its x86 architecture. That leading horse could be Samsung.

Andrew Feldman, vice president of AMD's server business unit, indicated that the chipmaker is betting heavily on ARM processors and its server and systems know-how to become a larger enterprise player. Feldman also made an ARM server prediction: By 2016 and 2017, ARM servers will have double digit market shares.

Should ARM servers get that much traction in data centers, it would be a boon to AMD. After all, Nvidia is the only other large ARM player talking about servers right now. If you take the current ARM server pecking order and apply it to the future, you'd have to assume that AMD, Nvidia and a few startups would drive market share gains. In other words, it's a bit unclear whether there are enough large horses to make ARM servers commonplace. AMD has the most enterprise experience.

However, Feldman said he expects Samsung and maybe Qualcomm to step up into the ARM server game. The Samsung possibilities are worth pondering. To wit:

  • Samsung already makes PCs so it has manufacturing scale to some degree 
  • It has its Exynos mobile applications processor
  • Samsung has the memory manufacturing operations
  • The company also is a semiconductor fabrication player
  • Samsung has a lot of experience with ARM
  • And the company does hit the enterprise in a few areas
Potential server play?

Add it up and Samsung could either provide ARM chips for servers or it could make the systems. In any case, the theory that ARM servers will become a data center staple would be greatly helped by Samsung.

The game for ARM servers would also depend on a large data center player, say Google, Facebook or Amazon, porting applications to an ARM architecture. If the big guns went to ARM servers, enterprises would at least look at the option. Enterprises may take a long look though, since porting applications to ARM would be tricky. ARM servers are likely to be the domain of cloud providers for a while.

It's likely that Samsung would become an ARM server processor player over a systems maker. To make systems, the Korean conglomerate would have to partner with the likes of VMware and others. Samsung approaches business customers from a bring-your-own-device perspective. Data centers may be out of focus for Samsung.

On the chip front, Samsung could be a dangerous counterweight to Intel by partnering with players such as Lenovo, Dell and HP. The likely move would be to tackle servers in Korea, then China and then mature markets. Instead of Intel Inside, you'd have Samsung inside.

In the ARM processor game, Samsung has all the parts to change the server market dynamics. What's unclear is whether the company has the will.