Another blow for Intel’s domination of the computer world as Redmond pledges to use ARM chips for Azure servers
Intel is facing a significant challenge after one of its long-standing partners has indicated it plans to use ARM chips in its new cloud server design.
Microsoft has deepened its partnership with Qualcomm with the news that Redmond will use ARM-based chips in the servers that run its Azure cloud service.
Microsoft, of course, has already formed a highly significant partnership with Qualcomm to bring Windows 10 to mobile devices powered by ARM chips.
It did this by working with Qualcomm and fabless semiconductor company Cavium.
Microsoft is now testing these chips for tasks like search, storage, machine learning and big data, Jason Zander, VP of Microsoft’s Azure cloud division is reported to have said.
It should be noted that Microsoft is not running ARM-based processors just yet. But ARM chips are known to be more power-efficient and do come from a wide range of vendors.
“It’s not deployed into production yet, but that is the next logical step,” Zander reportedly said in a Bloomberg interview. “This is a significant commitment on behalf of Microsoft. We wouldn’t even bring something to a conference if we didn’t think this was a committed project and something that’s part of our road map.”
At the moment Intel controls more than 99 percent of the market for server chips. Indeed, Intel’s Data Center Group posted $17.2bn of sales and $7.5bn of operating profit in 2016, and it is fair to say that this group is a hugely important revenue driver for Intel in the face of the continued PC decline.
And it seems that Microsoft is not messing around. Earlier this month it was reported that Hewlett Packard Enterprise was losing server business from one of its key customers, namely Microsoft.
That came after HPE CEO Meg Whitman recently warned that her company was seeing “significantly lower demand” for servers from a tier-1 service provider (i.e. Microsoft).
Microsoft is one of the world’s largest users of servers thanks to its cloud services to challenge the likes of Amazon and Google.
Until recently, it had sourced its cloud servers from traditional sources such as HPE, but now it is apparently choosing iron from lower-cost commodity manufacturers.
But that move should however come as no surprise to HPE and Intel. The writing was on the wall last year when Redmond announced ‘Project Olympus’ – its next generation hyperscale cloud hardware design.
Microsoft’s design for its in-house cloud servers focus on modularity, cost and power efficiency, and global data centre interoperability.
But using its own designs forces the likes of HPE and Dell to compete against lower-cost generic, commodity manufacturers.
And it seems that Microsoft is planning to incorporate the ARM chips into its Project Olympus. It will discuss this Wednesday at the Open Compute Project Summit in Santa Clara, California, where it will also announce new partners and components for the design.
Microsoft and Qualcomm are already partners after the two firms announced in December that Qualcomm would work with Redmond to support Windows 10 on next generation Snapdragon processors, the ARM-based processors that power the majority of high-end Android phones.
That deal was highly significant at the time, as the Windows operating system has long been anchored to traditional Intel x86 processors, forcing Microsoft to develop separate mobile operating systems (i.e the discontinued Windows Phone) that could run on ARM-based processors.