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Amazon looks to ARM for next-gen cloud servers

Amazon looks to ARM for next-gen cloud servers

Amazon has been hiring staff from failed server start-up Calxeda, apparently with a view to designing its own ARM chips for next-generation cloud server systems.

Amazon is rumoured to be looking towards ARM for the future growth of its cloud computing platform, hiring former Calxeda staff in what is being claimed as a plan to produce its own custom processors.

While best known as a bookseller turned almost-everything seller, a big part of Amazon's business is its cloud computing services. Originally built to serve Amazon's own needs, the platform was opened to the public as a new venture for the company and offers everything from on-demand computation in the Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to low-cost data storage in the Simple Storage Service (S3). To do that, Amazon needs a lot of servers - many of which value concurrency, the ability to run many low-horsepower computing threads simultaneously, over raw performance.

Accordingly, many see Cambridge-based ARM as a good fit: already making inroads into micro-server and cloud computing ventures, ARM's chip designs can't rival data centre giant Intel for performance but can run at a considerably lower power. Lower power means lower operating costs, and the ability to cram more physical processors - and thus run more concurrent threads - into the same space, power and thermal envelopes.

Thus it should be little surprise, perhaps, to learn that Amazon is one of the companies claimed to be investigating ARM in the datacentre. Gigaom has gathered evidence that the company has been hiring ARM processor experts, many of whom come from failed ARM server start-up Calxeda, with a view to building its own custom chips based around the ARM architecture.

Amazon, as is to be expected, has refused to comment on the site's claims, but the news comes as Google shows off a custom server motherboard based around IBM's Power8 architecture. With Google and Amazon representing two of the biggest single users of server components in the world, it wouldn't be surprising to see Intel making some dramatic changes to its Xeon family in the near future to better fight off the continued threat of non-x86 chips in the data centre.

12 Comments

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will_123 30th April 2014, 09:36 Quote
"turned almost-everything seller" haha this made me laugh so true! Shall be interesting with google announcing the power8 motherboard the other day. Both seem to be looking at alternatives to intel.
schmidtbag 30th April 2014, 14:31 Quote
"it wouldn't be surprising to see Intel making some dramatic changes to its Xeon family in the near future to better fight off the continued threat of non-x86 chips in the data centre." Eh... not sure about that. Intel's Xeon Phi was basically the closest thing they had that was a competitor to ARM servers and it wasn't used for very long. Intel is so caught up in their own ideals that I don't think they'll ever tweak their technologies for the sake of competing with ARM. All intel has to do is release a 6 or 8 core CPU with HT, drop the clock speed to around the 1-2GHz range and they've got a product no single ARM CPU can match. But, it takes more than that - Intel's pricing is ridiculous. I'd say AMD is in a better position than Intel when it comes to competing against ARM in the server world.
Gareth Halfacree 30th April 2014, 15:00 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmidtbag
Eh... not sure about that. Intel's Xeon Phi was basically the closest thing they had that was a competitor to ARM servers and it wasn't used for very long.
Xeon Phi isn't even close to being a competitor to ARM servers; it's a highly-parallel matrix x86 implementation for high-performance computing (HPC) and is heavily used in its intended market. The TOP500 site is down at the moment but I can tell you that two of the ten fastest computers in the world use Xeon Phi coprocessors, including the world's fastest machine, Tianhe-2. Xeon Phi certainly isn't going anywhere, either: Intel has already announced next-generation Xeon Phi parts, including the first socketed version.

I'm curious why you would say it "wasn't used for very long"?
schmidtbag 30th April 2014, 15:10 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gareth Halfacree
Xeon Phi isn't even close to being a competitor to ARM servers; it's a highly-parallel matrix x86 implementation for high-performance computing (HPC) and is heavily used in its intended market. The TOP500 site is down at the moment but I can tell you that two of the ten fastest computers in the world use Xeon Phi coprocessors, including the world's fastest machine, Tianhe-2. Xeon Phi certainly isn't going anywhere, either: Intel has already announced next-generation Xeon Phi parts, including the first socketed version.

I'm curious why you would say it "wasn't used for very long"?

The only thing that makes Xeon Phi similar is the fact that it uses several low-power cores. I admit I don't know the complete functionality of it, because for all I know it could be used as parallelizing a single task rather than run several separate instances of tasks. So depending on which one of those it does, then yeah, I guess it isn't similar at all.

I must be thinking of the pre-Phi naming scheme (like Knight's Ferry) where, from what I recall, were not very successful products and based on Atom cores. If you haven't noticed, I don't really keep up with this product line. I could have sworn I heard they actually discontinued the product line at one point.
Gareth Halfacree 30th April 2014, 15:39 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmidtbag
I must be thinking of the pre-Phi naming scheme (like Knight's Ferry) where, from what I recall, were not very successful products and based on Atom cores.
Think you might be misremembering, there, 'cos neither of those are true.
Quote:
Originally Posted by schmidtbag
If you haven't noticed, I don't really keep up with this product line. I could have sworn I heard they actually discontinued the product line at one point.
And that certainly isn't the case. Here's what I wrote about the next-generation Xeon Phis back in November.
Harlequin 30th April 2014, 16:14 Quote
if amazon can knock out 64bit ARM from caladex and quickly , they wont need to use intel anymore.
ch424 30th April 2014, 19:54 Quote
Indeed, Gareth is right - Xeon Phi competes with Nvidia's Tesla, not ARM!

However, Intel just layed off the whole Xeon Phi team in Barcelona, so I don't know what its long term future is. (They managed to make sure you can't google that by announcing they'd sponsor Barcelona FC at the same time, incredible!)
rollo 30th April 2014, 20:46 Quote
A lot of rumour and no real fact to back it up, they may eventually head ARM but I dou't it will happen as fast as anyone would expect. First thing amazon will do is likely query whoever supply's there Intel servers to see if they can offer better value for money ( which is all its really about as ARM is not beating intel on performance)

If they can offer them a better deal amazon will probably shift the staff to kindle if that's not what its for to begin with.

As for a AMD come back into this space that road ended a while ago. They are more intrested in all in one soc solutions like the ps4 and Xbox.
Gareth Halfacree 1st May 2014, 08:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by ch424
However, Intel just layed off the whole Xeon Phi team in Barcelona, so I don't know what its long term future is. (They managed to make sure you can't google that by announcing they'd sponsor Barcelona FC at the same time, incredible!)
Blimey, really? I hadn't heard that!

EDIT: Seems that Intel did close a facility in Barcelona, but according to this it wasn't anywhere close to the whole Xeon Phi team - just a small subset. Still, Intel kept that quiet!
Harlequin 1st May 2014, 09:31 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by rollo
A lot of rumour and no real fact to back it up, they may eventually head ARM but I dou't it will happen as fast as anyone would expect. First thing amazon will do is likely query whoever supply's there Intel servers to see if they can offer better value for money ( which is all its really about as ARM is not beating intel on performance)

If they can offer them a better deal amazon will probably shift the staff to kindle if that's not what its for to begin with.

As for a AMD come back into this space that road ended a while ago. They are more intrested in all in one soc solutions like the ps4 and Xbox.


http://img3.wikia.nocookie.net/__cb20051112001744/uncyclopedia/images/4/4a/Orly_owl.jpg

http://www.techradar.com/news/computing/servers/more-details-emerge-about-arm-based-amd-opteron-a1100-processor-series-1223236
rollo 1st May 2014, 15:16 Quote
Arm based is not x86 is it now? If they wanna go ARM thats good for them but its not really competing with Intel. ( Even the post you linked shows Arm as a whole expect to get 25% of the market by 2019, Leaving Intel with its 75% to increase profits even more and rip people off further sweet)

Not seen anything but theory that ARM will be able to compete with Intel where it would matter to most of the major players. If it was a viable product today Amazon and company would surely off jumped at the chance to buy a cheap low power solution as the cost per unit would be vastly under Intels over charged stuff.
Harlequin 1st May 2014, 15:43 Quote
stunningly ARM is what this thread is about.....
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