back to article Google licks its lips at sight of Qualcomm's 64-bit server ARM chips

Google is reportedly about to give a conditional thumbs up to Qualcomm's 64-bit ARM chips for servers. San Diego-headquartered Qualy showed off prototype 24-core ARMv8 processors in October. At the time, Qualcomm's Anand Chandrasekher said the chips will try to balance "performance, acceptable power-compute density, and cost …

  1. bazza Silver badge

    Intel and Microsoft need to look out.

    Data centres could be on the cusp of switching to ARM very rapidly. If you can save a bunch of cash in electricity bills by swapping kit, you would. Google may be about to.

    If data centres do change, Intel won't be at the party and Windows Server(ARM) doesn't exist.

    1. John 156

      Unfortunately, the A72 occupies the same living space as the A57 but is more powerful and efficient, so who is going to lash out on server farms full of obsolescent kit when work must be under way to create server chips etc with the better specified processors?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        who is going to lash out on server farms full of obsolescent kit

        hasn't that been a problem in the IT industry for decades, and no one's really cared (most of the time)?

        Why buy a PDP11 when a faster one will be along in a couple of years?

        Why buy a VAX when a faster one will be along in a couple of years?

        Why buy a PC/server when a faster one will be along in a year or two?

        Sometimes the benefits of buying now knowing it's going to be obsolete soon outweigh the benefits of doing nothing till the next generation arrives.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        In the article, it makes the point that Qualcomm, it seems, is choosing neither but using their own architecture. That point right there means we'll have to see the actual silicon to "know" what's under the hood. Here? I can already see a use in my mostly integer model-building/analytics. The rest of them usually needs no more than single precision. [For the latter and DP, I throw a 1-2 TFLOP machine at but that beast thinks electricity is a snack-food.]

        I can already see why Google is interested. Now what's interesting are the loads that can use 24 cores out-of-the-box.

      3. Charlie Clark Silver badge

        Unfortunately, the A72 occupies the same living space as the A57

        Apart from "a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush" the point about ARM chips not being beefy is not just about their power drawer what else they bring to the party. The AMD Seattle is not just a 64-bit chip but something designed explicitly for the data centre with excellent network and memory performance.

        Just because we haven't heard anything doesn't mean that Google isn't already sampling the AMD chips. With the volumes its buying it can easily afford to have different chips for web servers, database servers, caches, etc. This also suits the Compute Engine model where Google manages the scalability completely.

    2. Lusty

      "Intel and Microsoft need to look out"

      No they don't, and especially not Microsoft who is aiming to be a cloud vendor rather than a software vendor and could add these chips anyway. Apps will have to be rewritten to work in this way, and the vast majority of business apps don't work this way. These are squarely aimed at the micro-services crowd, and that has a quite specific market right now. While many agree that micro-services are a good thing going forward, the amount of work makes it prohibitive for a lot of existing code to be moved. Also, the reality is that most apps don't need the availability or scalability of the architecture so the justification may not be there.

      What might well happen, is all that software is gradually replaced by clever startup SaaS providers who do use micro-services. We've seen this happen in various areas (O365, Xero, Concur, Salesforce) where the incumbents have been so slow to adapt that a new player has taken the market overnight.

    3. BillG
      Meh

      Data centres could be on the cusp of switching to ARM very rapidly

      I don't think you read the article - ARM is gaining traction very slowly in very high end servers, during which Intel/x86 is NOT standing still.

      Intel will defend the server market like a lioness protecting her cubs. They will expand their highly efficient x64 server architectures and continue to innovate.

      In the end, the competition will benefit server manufacturers.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Intel will defend the server market like a lioness protecting her cubs. They will expand their highly efficient x64 server architectures and continue to innovate."

        Where will they find the money to do this?

        The server-end R+D has historically been supported by revenue from volume sales of chips for desktops and laptops.

        Outside the commercial IT market, desktop and laptop sales are going nowhere, other devices now offer better value to most people, and that seems unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.

        Routine desktops and laptops haven't needed faster processors in general for years, what they do need is cheaper and more efficient processors.

        In the last couple of years Intel has spent a fortune on subsidising its "cheaper and more efficient" mobile x86 parts in a largely failed attempt to persuade unwilling manufacturers to use them (look up "contra revenue"). You may not see "contra revenue" written about this year because they've reorganised the divisions in a way which somewhat hides the subsidy from the shareholders.

        So, reduced desktop revenue (and negligible mobile revenue) to support the design of next generation server chips. That means the server chip revenue increasingly has to support the server chip R+D on its own. That means there's less money for server chip R+D, *and* it also means that the server chip prices have to go up. Chip R+D costs a fortune and the costs (for an x86 design) are fixed regardless of sales volume. If your sales volumes aren't huge or you don't have money from elsewhere, you're on a decaying spiral...

        ARM chips are developed differently; a lot of the R+D/architectural costs are shared with other ARM licencees.

        Intel aren't going away overnight, but outside the Windows-dependent market, the change may be quicker than you expect. A bit likewhat eventually happened to IA64, perhaps (and before that, like what happened to Alpha). Lots of people could see IA64 was dead, Intel and HP carried on claiming it was the best thing since sliced bread, and now everyone can finally see what's been obvious for years.

        Intel: the x86 company.

        1. JohnyDoe

          To the Anonymous Coward

          ARM servers have been coming for the past hmm...15 years. Also GOOG never showed up at the QCom server event recently

          http://www.wired.com/2016/02/googles-hardware-endgame-making-its-very-own-chips/

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Apple switching to Intel's cellular

    Speculation is the main reason Apple would be interested is that Intel is willing to license the IP, so Apple could include the modem block in their SoC, which saves money and reduces power draw. Qualcomm won't do that, they will only sell you a modem chip (or a SoC that includes their modem)

    Still it bodes well for Qualcomm if they can have some success in the ARM server market, since they have several strikes against them for the future of their mobile business (not just Apple maybe leaving, but Samsung using their own SoCs more and Chinese companies using cheaper alternatives like Mediatek)

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    'Spokespeople for Qualcomm and Google told The Register this morning in San Francisco: "We don't comment on rumor and speculation." '

    Shame. Should have asked Google UK, they would've welcomed a change in topic.

  4. IGnatius T Foobar

    Feature

    ARM chips won't run Microsoft Exchange -- and that's a feature, not a problem.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Feature

      Exchange is far better than the mess that is its equivalent on Linux.

      Several years ago MS showed off Windows 7 running Office running on an ARM, printing to an Epson. They achieved this by writing the required hardware abstraction layer for ARM and simply recompiled Windows 7, Office and a set of drivers. It worked no trouble at all.

      They could do that for any of their software and ship it. The barrier is testing, and whatever commercial loyalty they're contractually obliged to show to Intel. Delay too long and they might find themselves without a market. I think that the company has wasted the 7ish years since they did that demonstration. They had everything they needed to lead the establishment of an ARM based ecosystem for servers and desktops, even buying an ARM foundry license. Seven years later they have a nearly dead mobile platform and nothing else to show for it. Meanwhile their strongest customer base is or soon will be itching to transition servers to ARM so as to remain cost competitive with their rivals who use Linux (who can and will make the jump at the earliest opportunity).

      1. kryptylomese

        Re: Feature

        "They could do that for any of their software and ship it" - Yes Microsoft could for their own software but what about all the other software you have running on your Windows platform made by 3rd parties? If the 3rd parties have to go to the trouble of recompiling, they would be better off correcting it for Linux which is a much better platform.

        Also there are more instances of email servers in the world that don't run Exchange than do! Guess some people will have to learn about something other than click this button here to make the mail server do such and such only to have to contact Microsoft support because that function failed...

        1. Patrician
          Facepalm

          Re: Feature

          And another thread degenerates into Linux v's Microsoft.....

          1. kryptylomese

            Re: Feature

            What do you expect?

            We are talking about a different server processor architecture which currently effectively excludes Windows and puts the much better Linux as the pragmatic choice of operating system.

  5. Tromos
    Joke

    Google is getting too fat

    So many chips can't be good for their health

  6. Christian Berger

    The interresting question is: Will it be a common platform

    Unlike mobile phones which are usually sold along with the OS, selling a server which can only run one (version of one) operating system is a hard job. People want to choose their own operating system. For this you need sensible ways to make sure one OS image can boot on all machines... at least enough to enumerate the hardware and load proper drivers. (which for security reasons cannot be closed source in many companies)

    If such a platform emerges, there will be a chance that it'll be used outside the server business. For example for workstations or "high-end" mobile phones. If we had that, we'd finally be able to run one image on multiple phones and finally have some competition and progress in the mobile area.

  7. ntevanza

    memory architecture

    I'd like to see how QC keep all those energy efficient cores busy with an equally energy efficient memory subsystem. If it can't, then no server ARM, again.

    1. Charlie Clark Silver badge

      Re: memory architecture

      That's where AMD has the advantage.

      Of course, Qualcomm's chip designers are no mugs and presumably Google will be able to give them targets and real performance data.

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