At the recent Open Compute Summit, Qualcomm announced a significant partnership with Microsoft that will have ramifications for Intel and the entire server industry.
Not only has Qualcomm created new server designs around Microsoft’s Project Olympus specifications and its own Centriq 2400 SoCs, it’s working with Microsoft to bring ARM support to Windows Server.
Last year, Microsoft announced a new initiative, dubbed Project Olympus. According to Microsoft, Project Olympus “applies a model of open source collaboration that has been embraced for software but has historically been at odds with the physical demands of developing hardware.” The software firm pledged to release its specifications for cloud hardware designs when they are 50% complete rather than waiting to finalize them. Qualcomm has apparently been one of Microsoft’s major partners, at least as far as ARM servers are concerned.
Qualcomm has been collaborating with Microsoft to bring software support for its platforms to market with Windows Server support. Here’s how the company describes these efforts:
The Qualcomm Centriq 2400 Open Compute Motherboard pairs QDT’s recently announced 10nm, 48-core server processor with the most advanced interfaces for memory, network, and peripherals enabling the OCP community to access and design ARM-based servers for the most common cloud compute workloads. It fits into a standard 1U server system, offering system vendors the flexibility to create innovative, configurable designs for compute-intensive data centre workloads.
Qualcomm is hyping up the fact that Falkor is built on 10nm, but with so little additional information on how the core is built or how it performs, there’s little more we can say on that front. Packing 48 cores into a single chip is impressive, but making all of those cores scale and communicate effectively is a difficult challenge on its own. To date, Qualcomm hasn’t said much about how it handled these challenges or offered public data on its benchmark results.
One key caveat is that these servers are apparently intended for Microsoft’s own internal use, and it isn’t clear when Microsoft will launch a commercial Windows Server on ARM product. Still, the prospect of a resurgent ARM backed by a Qualcomm / Microsoft partnership could prove a thorn in Intel’s side.
Intel, of course, has contended with such threats before. It launched new low-cost Xeon servers based on Atom to fend off competition from the now-defunct Calxeda several years ago, and it successfully reclaimed virtually all of AMD’s server market share. Calxeda, however, was a minor startup, not a multi-billion dollar company like Qualcomm. AMD clearly thinks it has a chip it can use to take Chipzilla down a peg. Intel could soon find itself facing a war on two fronts, from a resurgent AMD on one side, and a freshly-minted ARM based Qualcomm core on the other.