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Microsoft To Use ARM Not Intel in Data Center Systems
Posted March 8, 2017
Microsoft To Use ARM Not Intel in Data Center Systems
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By Jef Cozza. Updated March 8, 2017 9:23AM

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A new collaboration between Microsoft and Qualcomm will bring ARM processors to data center servers running the Windows operating system. The agreement is centered on Qualcomm's 10 nanometer Centriq 2400 platform platform server solutions powering Microsoft's Azure cloud platform, but the companies also plan to cooperate on multiple generations of hardware, software and systems.

The announcement could spell trouble for Intel, whose processors have dominated the data center server market for years, where it has been a long-standing Microsoft partner. According to Intel's marketing materials, 98 percent of servers powering the cloud infrastructure run on its chips.

For Internal Use Only, For Now

But all that may be about to change. Microsoft has already developed a version of Windows Server to run on Qualcomm's chips, demonstrating one today that was developed for Microsoft's internal use. Redmond contributed the specifications for the server to the 2017 Open Compute Project U.S. Summit running today and tomorrow in Santa Clara, Calif.

At the moment, the server is only being used internally, and neither company has shed any light on when or if they would be launching hardware based on the design to the public. But Microsoft did say it is committed to the project, which it considers significant for the company.

The server specifications are based on Microsoft's Project Olympus, the company's next-generation, open source hyperscale cloud hardware design. Microsoft contributed the design to the Open Compute Project (OCP) last year. The Open Compute Project is a collaboration between multiple hardware and software vendors dedicated to promoting open source design in hardware and data center infrastructure.

Qualcomm said it has been working with Microsoft on ARM-based server enablement for several years and has an onsite engineering team embedded at Microsoft to collaboratively optimize the version of Windows Server designed for Qualcomm's hardware.

Qualcomm Joins OCP

In addition to its collaboration with Microsoft, Qualcomm also announced that it has formally joined the Open Compute Project Foundation.

Qualcomm said that its specifications pair its recently announced 10nm, 48-core server processor with new interfaces for memory, network and peripherals that will enable suppliers in the Open Compute Project community to access and design ARM-based servers for the most common cloud compute workloads.

The server design fits into a standard 1U server system, offering system vendors the flexibility to create innovative, configurable designs for compute-intensive data center workloads, according to Qualcomm. It can be paired with compute accelerators, multi-host NICs (network interface controllers) and leading-edge storage technologies, such as NVMe, to optimize performance for specific workloads.

"QDT is accelerating innovation in data centers by delivering the world's first 10nm server platform," said Ram Peddibhotla, vice president, product management, Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies Inc., in a statement. "Our collaboration with Microsoft and contribution to the OCP community enables innovations such as Qualcomm Centriq 2400 to be designed in and deployed into the data centers rapidly. In collaborating with Microsoft and other industry leading partners, we are democratizing system design and enabling a broad-based ARM server ecosystem."

Image credit: Qualcomm.

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