A recent report by the Bloomberg news service that Microsoft Corp. may be actively working on a Windows version for servers running ARM-based microprocessors could represent a serious threat to Intel Corp.'s standing in the server market, according to IHS Technology.
While an ARM-based version of Windows for servers could bring the noted mobile-phone microprocessors into more powerful computers, it would also create a very real competitor to Intel Corp. in a market that Intel currently dominates, according to IHS.
In recent years, Intel's marketshare in the processor server space has hovered around 90 percent.
The ARM server market is very young and has yet to reach volume production. But that is expected to happen in 2015 and if Microsoft comes to market with a Windows platform for servers, adoption could happen quickly.
“The ARM potential growth in the server industry is very real, and a real competitor to Intel,” said Craig Stice, senior principal analyst of Compute, Servers & Storage at IHS Technology. “I’ve seen forecasts from the ARM server community that they believe ARM servers will achieve about 20 percent of the server market in around 2020.”
The challenge that ARM-based servers will face is backward compatibility with legacy x86 (non-AMR) software and hardware.
“Microsoft likely sees that as potentially up to 20 percent of the server market that will then be challenged to run Microsoft software,” Stice said. “My assumption by Microsoft’s move here is to really make sure its software is compatible with both to ensure they are not missing any of the market.”
ARM server chips have been gaining momentum since the summer with Applied Micro Circuit Corp. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. both announced shipments of the semiconductors. Applied Micro’s chips are intended for micro-server applications in a modest 40nm manufacturing process and includes four pairs of cores running at up to 3.0 GHz clock frequency. A die shrink is expected for these chips to 28nm and eventually a third generation of devices will be shipped using a 16nm FinFET manufacturing process.
Applied Micro’s ARM server chips are already being used in Hewlett-Packard’s Moonshot line of enterprise-calls 64-bit servers based on Applied’s X-Gene architecture. HP at the time called ARM-based servers a way to change how enterprises are built in order to meet customer challenges in the future.
Meanwhile, AMD demonstrated its 64-bit ARM system-chip at the recent ARM Techcon event with its Hierofalcon chip based on eight Cortex-A57 cores with two 64-bit DDR3/4 channels. AMD’s ARM server chips are being targeted at enterprise and data centers where increased bandwidth and cost reduction are needed.