This Analyst Says Intel Has Beaten ARM To The Punch In Data centres

Charles King Pund IT
Charles King, president, Pund-IT

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ARM, the British microprocessor designer, is killing Intel in mobile. Apple, Microsoft, and Google use its designs in their smartphones and tablets.But with a newly released chip, Intel is successfully fending off ARM in a crucial market—the data centre.

So says Charles King, the president and principal analyst at Pund-It.

The new chip is called the Atom processor S1200 and the timing of its release today is important. It puts Intel a full year ahead of a consortium working on putting ARM designs into the data centre.

Companies that make expensive servers for enterprises have been kicking the tires on ARM-based servers for a while. Earlier this year, Dell and HP both got more serious about developing servers on ARM.

The issue here is all about power.  Data-centre owners need servers that are superfast but use less electricity. That way, big cloud companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon can pack more servers into their data centres while keeping power costs low. That’s better for their bottom lines and better for the environment.

The same holds true for enterprises that run their own data centres.

Therefore, ARM’s partners, makers of low-power chips that run smartphones and tablets, have been working on plans to release chips for servers. But actual computer servers based on those chips won’t be available until sometime in 2013, and those early systems will be limited.

The first versions of ARM servers will be 32-bit systems. Most servers today are 64-bit, which lets them address far more data at a time, a crucial differentiator for servers. 64-bit ARM system won’t be available until 2014.

Today’s new low-power chips from Intel are 64-bit, so they beat ARM to the punch by more than a year.

“What we’ve been getting from ARM server cheerleaders is a lot of verbose claims but most of those systems are still sometime away from actually arriving at market,” King says.

Intel already had a line of low-power chips used by system makers such as Dell and HP. But these chips were really designed for netbooks, not servers, and lacked important features. They, too, were only 32-bit, had less memory on board, and lacked support for server virtualization, an important data-centre technology.

Intel has watched ARM chips dominate the mobile market. ARM-based tablets like Apple’s iPad have chipped away at PC market growth, which hurts Intel. So Intel really needs to own the all-important low-power server market.

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