Qualcomm ARM-based servers to make way into Microsoft’s cloud data centers

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Karlis Dambrans/Flickr
Intel has been facing some serious competitive pressures lately. First was Microsoft’s decision to run full Windows 10 on ARM processors, and then AMD released its new Ryzen CPUs with very competitive price-performance propositions against Intel’s desktop chips.

Now, Microsoft is putting some pressure on Intel at the highest end, specifically on machines made to run Windows Server in its largest data centers running its cloud services. Again, it is ARM support that could cut into Intel’s dominance in this space, according to a Qualcomm press release.

The news comes from the Open Compute Project (OCP) Summit 2017, where Qualcomm announced that its Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies (QDT) group is working with Microsoft to run cloud services on the ARM-based Qualcomm Centriq 2400 platform. The move follows years of collaboration between the companies on optimizing a version of Windows Server to run on ARM in Microsoft data centers. There’s no word yet on whether Microsoft will sell an ARM-based version of Windows Server to external customers.

The Qualcomm Centriq 2400 Open Computer Motherboard is at the center of the announcement, and it pairs QDT’s 10nm 48-core server CPU with advanced memory, network, and peripheral interfaces. The assembly fits into standard server racks, meaning it’s possible to swap out Intel-based systems for ARM servers to run cloud services like Microsoft Azure.

“QDT is accelerating innovation in data centers by delivering the world’s first 10nm server platform,” said Ram Peddibhotia, VP of product management for QDT. “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.”

QDT is also signing up as a gold member of the Open Compute Project (OCP) Foundation. This follows Microsoft’s own decision to join OCP in 2014, and Microsoft itself announced that Qualcomm will be participating in its Project Olympus initiative to create a next-generation hardware design and model for open source hardware. That means that the ARM64 architecture will join Intel’s Xeon and AMD’s Naples architectures in building out high-performance data centers.

qualcomm and microsoft partner on arm based windows server for cloud data centers project olymus rack unit
Microsoft
Microsoft

“Microsoft and QDT are collaborating with an eye to the future addressing server acceleration and memory technologies that have the potential to shape the data center of tomorrowm” said Microsoft’s Dr. Leendert van Doorn, distinguished engineer for Microsoft Azure. “Our joint work on Windows Server for Microsoft’s internal use, and the Qualcomm Centriq 2400 Open Compute Motherboard server specification, compatible with Microsoft’s Project Olympus, is an important step toward enabling our cloud services to run on QDT-based server platforms.”

QDT hasn’t announced exactly when ARM-based servers will make their way into Microsoft’s cloud infrastructure. Once it does, however, Intel’s hold on at least Microsoft’s server business will be dealt something of a blow, squeezing the company’s processor business from both the high and low ends as Windows 10 makes its way to ARM and AMD continues to compete against its Core line of CPUs.

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