A pre-production of Qualcomm's ARM server chip. Credit: James Niccolai
Qualcomm has revealed its plans to enter the server CPU market with a custom processor based on a design from U.K. chip company ARM.
Qualcomm becomes the latest vendor to build a server chip using the ARM architecture, which is widely used in smartphones and tablets. Some believe ARM can challenge x86 in the data center because of its low-power characteristics.
It's aiming the chip at hyper-scale customers such as Facebook and Google, as well as service providers and large enterprises. It says the chip will be suitable for cloud workloads including big-data mining, machine learning, and Infrastructure as a Service and Platform as a Service offerings.
Qualcomm's Anand Chandrasekher shows a test version of the company's ARM server chip. Credit: James Niccolai
Qualcomm demonstrated a pre-production chip in San Francisco on Thursday. It's a purpose-built system-on-chip, different from its Snapdragon processor, that integrates PCIe, storage and other features. The initial version has 24 cores, though the final part will have more, said Anand Chandrasekher, Qualcomm senior vice president.
The company is shipping the part to big customers now for testing, he said, though he declined to name them. He also wouldn't say when a product will be available commercially; Qualcomm will provide an update on that during the next year, Chandrasekher said.
Prototype servers based on Qualcomm's upcoming ARM server chip. Credit: James Niccolai
Still, it's been working on the part for two years and demonstrated it Thursday running a version of Linux, with the KVM hypervisor, streaming HD video to a PC. The chip was running the LAMP stack -- Linux, the Apache Web server, MySQL, and PHP -- and OpenStack cloud software.
Chandrasekher was joined by the CEOs of Mellanox and Xilinx, who are working with it to build a complete server platform. Mellanox is designing network cards to work with the SOC, while Xilinx said it will build programmable chips to speed up particular workloads.
“We believe this will enable the market, which today is fully controlled by one player, to have diversification and improved performance,” said Xilinx CEO Moshe Gavrielov, referring to Intel.
Qualcomm joins a long list of companies targeting the same space. AMD, Cavium, AppliedMicro, Marvell, and Broadcom already have ARM server processors on the market.
But Qualcomm is a powerful entrant thanks largely to its huge smartphone business, and it appears willing to invest heavily.
"We realize this is a long-term investment that will take multiple years," said Qualcomm President Derek Aberle.
Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.