NVIDIA Project Denver: ARM Powered Servers

NVIDIA has been an ARM licensee for quite some time now. Back in 2008 they announced Tegra, an embedded client processor including an ARM core and NVIDIA graphics aimed at smartphones and mobile handsets. 10 days ago, they announced Project Denver where they are building high-performance ARM-based CPUs, designed to power systems ranging from “personal computers and servers to workstations and supercomputers”. This is interesting for a variety of reasons, first they are entering the server CPU market. Second NVIDIA is joining Marvell and Calxeda (previously Smooth-Stone) in taking the ARM architecture and targeting server-side computing.

ARM is an interesting company in that they produce designs and these designs get adapted by licensees including Texas instruments, Samsung, Qualcomm, and even unlikely players such as Microsoft. These licensees may fab their own parts or be fab-less design shops depending upon others for volume production. Unlike Intel, ARM doesn’t really produce chips focusing just on design.

ARM has become an incredibly important instruction set architecture powering smartphones, low-end network routers, printers, copiers, tablets, and other embedded applications. But things are changing, arm is now producing designs appropriate for server-side computing at the same time that power consumption is becoming a key measure of server-side computing cost. The ARM design team are masters of low power designs and generations of ARMs have focused on power management. ARM has an impressively efficiently design.

Linux powers many of the ARM-based devices mentioned above and consequently Linux runs well on ARM processors. Completing the picture, Microsoft has announced that the next version of windows will also support ARM devices: Microsoft Announced Support of System on a Chip Architectures from Intel, AMD, and ARM for next Version of Windows.

Other articles are ARM and micro-slice computing:

· CEMS: Low-Cost, Low-power Servers for Internet Scale Services

· A Fast Array of Wimpy Nodes

· Very Low-Cost, Low-Power Servers

· Linux/Apache on ARM Processors

· ARM Cortex-A9 SMP Design Announced

Other articles on the NVIDIA announcement:

· Nvidia Developing ARM Processors for Servers

· Nvidia Turns to ARM for Server Chips to Kill Intel

A closely related article from the Barry Evans and Karl Freund of ARM-powered, server startup Calxeda: http://gigaom.com/cloud/look-out-your-data-center-is-about-to-change-again/.

We are on track for renewed competition in the server-side computing market segment and intense competition on power efficiency at the same time as internet-scale service operators are willing to run whatever processor is least expensive and most power efficient. With competition comes innovation and I see a good year coming.


James Hamilton

e: jrh@mvdirona.com

w: http://www.mvdirona.com

b: http://blog.mvdirona.com / http://perspectives.mvdirona.com

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