I noticed earlier tonight that Taiwanese vendor MiTAC will sell you an eight core 64 Bit ARM server.
Which, proving how flexible the ARM licensing model is, happens to be months ahead of delivery compared to ARM’s own 64-Bit Cortex-A50 and NVIDIA’s always on going 64-Bit ARM CPU development efforts.
Linux already runs on ARM and while Microsoft continue to play it cagey on their thoughts about ARM binaries for Windows Server, owning a Microsoft Surface I can tell you that Windows does run on ARM today even if there are still massive performance optimisations being pushed out on a regular basis. Windows RT is so much Windows that patch Tuesday requires the multiple reboots for Windows Update installation that Windows 8 on x86 does.
There’s no embedded OS monkey business going on with Windows RT, it’s Windows straight from the source and with that comes all the awe & terror of living with Windows.
While Windows RT is Windows 8 on ARM in 32 Bit Mode it proves ARM like PowerPC or DEC ALPHA in the Windows NT 4 days, is a viable target platform technically. Even if the business case for Windows Server just isn’t there yet.
That business case will come more from serving static content to people over the web than it will be from running computationally heavy distributed applications, but that’s a major slice of the server market today as it’s the presentation layer for all this ‘cloud’…stuff. –cough-
MiTAC are using a SOC (System On Chip) from Applied Micro Circuits Corp, the same supplier HP signed up for it’s yet to appear ARM powered Moonshot systems but with AMD promising a 2014 debut for it’s ARM server processor I can image the major server vendors are already sniffing around the major ARM CPU manufacturers to see how close they can get to x86 server performance and how much ‘good enough’ processors will cost them.
With AMD telling people it costs them $400M and takes three years of development to crank out an x86 server processor design while on the other hand it costs them somewhere to the order of $30M and 18 months of their time to crank out an ARM server processor design it’s all going to come down to how many generations of development the ARM licensees are going to need to get to good enough performance.
Intel loom large as they do in every processor conversation and are aggressively positioning Atom to meet the threat head on. They have an incredible advantage in the process area where their absolute control from design to manufacture nets them performance improvements as part of manufacturing improvements but their investment in process has to always be massive as their competitors are operating without the spend on manufacturing process development. The ARM collective simply show up to Samsung or TWSC, or TI or Global Foundries, ask for a zillion processors to run off the manufacturing lines and wonder if they can have them by Tuesday?
If, by 2015, 64-Bit ARM makes it within striking distance of x86 server processor performance, the sheer number of different suppliers will drive prices down well below what Intel can match and before the end of the decade the ARM collective could go from zero to 15 or 20% server CPU market share.
When you consider how desktop computer CPU manufacturer Intel, who was growing like crazy during the golden age of Wintel expansion, demolished the higher performing mega-margin server architectures of the 90’s, the DEC ALPHAs, PA/RISCs and SPARCs of the world as it made IBM POWER (Life assurance provided by the IBM Mainframe monopoly) a niche within a niche, this is one of those industry inflection points which could hammer Intel very hard.
The way Intel’s expansion into the server market was funded by tens of millions of PCs landing on peoples desks and in their homes, ARM’s expansion is being funded by the hundreds of millions of smartphones in people’s pockets and tablets landing in their hands.