ARM, the fast-growing developer of processors, may be about to challenge Intel and AMD on a new front thanks to a possible deal for Hewlett-Packard to bring ARM-based servers to market via a partnership with Calxeda.
The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday reported that HP and Calxeda are pairing up to bring ARM-based servers to companies building large data centers and looking for ways to reduce the power consumption of their server infrastructure.
The Journal, citing unnamed sources, said that HP and Calxeda are expected to unveil a prototype server and a proof-of-concept program.
The time of the announcement could be as soon as next week. HP on Tuesday is slated to introduce new server technology "that will transform the data center" and address "compute demands driven by information explosion," according to an invitation passed to press organizations.
Such a move, should it prove true, could be a blow to both Intel and AMD. Intel in the second quarter of 2011 had a 79.3-percent share of the world's microprocessor shipments, with AMD coming in at second with a 20.4 percent share and Via at third with a tiny 0.3-percent share, according to IDC.
However, in the PC server and workstation processor business, Intel had a 94.5-percent market share compared to a 5.5-percent market share for AMD, IDC said.
Calxeda first entered the server market in June with a group of partners including integrators, ISVs, and users who are developing applications around its ARM processor-based, power-efficient server technology.
At the time, Calxeda unveiled plans to produce servers based on its ARM processors, each of which consumes only 5 Watts of power. Calxeda is taking a standard quad-core ARM processor, building it into a small package of components which together form a fully functioning server, and packing about 120 of them into a 2U rack enclosure. That puts 480 processor cores in a 2U space.
Those servers were slated to be released this year from system vendors the company declined to name, and take advantage of applications from partners in the Calxeda Trailblazer Initiative, which includes integrators and ISVs focused on cloud computing and big data, said Karl Freund, vice president of marketing for Calxeda, in June.
Intel is not concerned about the possible partnership between HP and Calxeda or about how it might impact HP's relationship with Intel, an Intel spokesperson told CRN.
The Intel spokesperson said that Intel is already addressing the microserver market, which targets low power consumption data center architectures with highly dense architectures, with new versions of its Xeon processor which consume as low as 20 Watts per processor, and its Atom processors which feature sub-10-Watt power consumption.
Unlike the ARM processors, Intel's Atom processors are x86-based software compatible, the Intel spokesperson said. Furthermore, the Atom processors support 64-bit operation and ECC memory, making them suitable for a wide variety of applications, especially for applications which require high scalability.
Intel has recently accelerated its Atom processor roadmap with plans to move from its current 32-nanometer process for manufacturing the chips to a 22-nanometer process in 2013 and a 14-nanometer process in 2014.
The company plans to build Atom processors for the server market and for the burgeoning mobile PC and smart device market using the same process, the Intel spokesperson said.
Next: Calxeda Lining Up Partners For Data Center Push
Freund in June told CRN that about 90 percent of all Linux operating system instances are running on ARM processors, primarily in the mobile device market, and so the types of new applications that will be targeted by Calxeda and its partners will run on the Calxeda servers without the need for recompling them.
Freund cited two primary focuses of the Calxeda Trailblazer Initiative.
The first is Hadoop, a framework for running applications on large clusters built using commodity hardware. Hadoop works by breaking an application into multiple small fragments of work, each of which may be executed or re-executed on any node in the cluster.
The second is the Cassendra open-source distributed database project.
Rich Baldwin, CIO and chief strategy officer at Nth Generation Computing, a San Diego-based solution provider and long-time HP partner, said the kind of density that Calxeda is promising with its server architecture could be a game changer.
"It's pretty exciting, when you think about it," Baldwin said.
However, Baldwin said, he does not expect an immediate major impact on Intel's business on HP's channel in part because a big part of the large data center market targeted by Calxeda's servers likely includes companies like Google and Amazon which either purchase servers direct from the vendors or build them themselves.
In any event, the ARM processor will not find it easy to break into the server market, Baldwin said.
"Intel's working on low-power processors," he said. "Everybody is. I don't know if ARM can get enough critical mass... Can they really differentiate themselves enough and get enough volume? When you go into a new market, you have to be number one or number two."
ARM, along with Texas Instruments are strategic investors in Calxeda.
AMD, HP, and Calxeda were unable to respond to requests for more information.