Russian government telegraphs move to ARM

June 23, 2014 // 10:17 a.m.

Tags: #amd #arm #baikal #datacentre #data-centre #gnulinux #government #intel #linux #ministry-of-industry #project-skybridge #russia #x86

The Russian Ministry of Industry is claimed to be investigating the creation of a homebrew processor based on the ARM architecture, as a replacement for foreign-produced x86 chips from Intel and AMD.

According to a report by local news outlet Kommersant Moscow, the Russian government plans to produce a family of processors dubbed Baikal and featuring a 28nm implementation of Cambridge-based ARM's Cortex-A57 64-bit intellectual property. These chips, it is claimed, will feature at least eight physical processing cores running at 2GHz, and will be produced by a specialised subsidiary of supercomputing company T-Platforms. Systems based around the chips would run a variant of the open-source GNU/Linux operating system tailored for the local market, it is claimed.

While the dominating architecture in mobile computing, ARM has made little impact elsewhere since the Acorn RiscPC desktop computer family dropped off the market. This is changing, however: 64-bit architecture designs provide ARM platforms with access to more resources than ever before, with major companies seriously investigating the low-power chips as replacements for x86 in data centre applications. Even AMD is getting in on the act, promising motherboards that can be populated with ARM or x86 processors under the codename Project Skybridge.

For the Russian Ministry of Industry, the focus is likely to be less on improving performance-per-watt and more on reducing its reliance on foreign companies. Neither AMD nor Intel allow their customers to license the design of their respective processors, instead forcing them to buy off-the-shelf - or, more recently, semi-customised - chips produced elsewhere. ARM, however, produces no physical products at all, instead licensing its intellectual property to third party companies like Samsung, Qualcomm and Apple for customisation and production. By moving to the IP licensing model, the Russian government will be able to keep the bulk of the money spent on processors within its borders with only a small licensing fee making its way to Cambridge.

Kommersant claims that the Russian government spends around $800 million a year on server hardware, only a small fraction of which goes on outdated local processor designs built on a 90nm process. That latter fact suggests considerable investment will be required to hit the government's ambitious 2015 launch date for Baikal: industry sources claim Russia currently lacks 28nm semiconductor manufacturing capabilities.

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