Finally: AWS Gives Servers A Real Shot In The Arm
8 min read
Finally, we get to test out how well or poorly a well-designed Arm server chip will do in the datacenter. And we don't have to wait for any of the
traditional and upstart server chip makers to convince server partners to build and support machines, and the software partners to get on board and certify their stacks and apps to run on the chip. Amazon Web Services is an ecosystem unto itself, and it owns a lot of its own stack, so it can just mike drop the Graviton2 processor on the stage at re:Invent in Las Vegas and dare Marvell, Ampere, and anyone else who cares to try to keep up.

And that is precisely what Andy Jassy, chief executive officer of AWS, did in announcing the second generation of server-class Arm processors that the cloud computing behemoth has created with its Annapurna Labs division, making it clear to Intel and AMD alike that it doesn't need X86 processors to run a lot of its workloads.

It's funny to think of X86 chips as being a legacy workload that costs a premium to make and therefore costs a premium to own or rent, but this is the situation that AWS is itself setting up on its infrastructure. It is still early days, obviously, but if even half of the major hyperscalers and cloud builders follow suit and build custom (or barely custom) versions of the Arm Holdings Neoverse chip designs, which are very good indeed and on a pretty aggressive cadence and performance roadmap, then a representative portion of annual X86 server chip shipments could move from X86 to Arm in a very short time – call it two to three years.

Microsoft has made no secret that it wants to have 50 percent of its server capacity on Arm processors, and has recently started deploying Marvell's "Vulcan" ThunderX2 processors in its "Olympus" rack servers internally. Microsoft is not talking about the extent of its deployments, but our guess is that it is on the order of tens of thousands of units, which ain't but a speck against the millions of machines in its server fleet. Google has dabble in Power processors for relatively big iron and has done some deployments, but again we don't know the magnitude. Google was rumored…
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