Arm faces uphill battle in server market

Arm faces a challenge stealing market share from Intel and AMD, with design and customer acceptance issues

Arm has entered the server market with Marvell Semiconductor announcing a chip based on its processor architecture, but customer acceptance and design issues could affect its chances of winning market share from Intel and Advanced Micro Devices, analysts said.

Marvell on Monday announced a quad-core server chip, Armada XP, which is based on an Arm design. The chip puts Arm in direct competition with Intel and AMD, which currently offer chips based on x86 architecture for servers.

Arm licenses processor designs to chip makers like Marvell, Texas Instruments, Samsung and Qualcomm. Arm processors go into most of the world's smartphones and are making their way into tablets and servers. Arm has talked about entering the server market since 2008, and Marvell is one of the first to announce a server chip based on Arm designs.

Arm's low-power processors could provide better performance-per-watt than Intel or AMD chips, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64.

Arm-based servers could make a mark in the low-end server space, where applications don't require heavy computation, Brookwood said. For example, the servers could be well-suited for fast-moving Web transactions. Many Web servers rely on the Linux OS, which Arm processors support, he said.

"Intel is trying to get into Arm's territory with smartphone and tablet [processors], and Arm is trying to get into Intel's territory with low-end server [processors]," Brookwood said. "This will be an interesting battle over the next two to four years."

There is a growing interest in building servers with low-power chips as companies look to cut energy costs. For example, SeaMicro currently offers the power-efficient SM10000 server, which packs 512 Intel Atom netbook processors on miniature motherboards the size of credit cards. AMD has also said it may consider putting its upcoming low-power chips in servers.

Though low-power servers are being increasingly implemented in data centers, organizations may not readily shift architectures, said Dean McCarron, principal analyst at Mercury Research.

Companies place the weight of their businesses on IT infrastructures and are hesitant to migrate entrenched server installments unless they find the new architecture reliable, McCarron said. Beyond reliability, Arm also needs to support a wide range of applications to find adopters.

"Any time you have a new product in a category, it takes a while to ramp," McCarron said.

Arm in September announced the Cortex-A15 processor, which was designed to handle server-type operations. The processor includes virtualization capabilities, supports up to 1TB of physical memory and can scale performance with the help of more cores. However, no official chip based on the processor has been announced yet.

There are also some architectural limits for current Arm-based chips that could hamper server adoption, Brookwood said. For example, memory limits of up to 4GB could limit server operations from a software standpoint.

The current and Cortex-A15 architectures are also based on 32-bit processor design, Brookwood said. While Intel and AMD moved up to 64-bit design a while ago, Arm is behind its rivals.

"The next iteration of Arm in 2011 or 2012 will come out with 64-bit extensions," Brookwood said.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Arm HoldingsArmserversComponentsprocessorsintel

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Agam Shah

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?