Ampere points server chip roadmap toward cloud computing

The Arm server chip maker is lining up major cloud players for its processors.

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Ampere, the chip startup building Arm-based server processors and led by former Intel exec Renee James, has updated its product roadmap and announced new customers.

The biggest news is that the company is designing its own custom cores for release in 2022. Ampere Altra processors are already on the market but use the Neoverse core from Arm. When it introduces the next generation Ampere built on a 5nm process next year, it will be with a homegrown core optimized around cloud workloads.

"If you go back to the objectives we had, which were delivering predictable, high performance, scalability and power efficiency, we really need to develop our own cores ... to be able to actually focus in on the exact way that the cloud wants single-threaded performance," Jeff Wittich, chief product officer for Ampere, told Network World.

"This also helps us from a power efficiency perspective. We're able to really hone in on having a very, very efficient core that is purpose-built for the cloud. And so having our own cores is really the only way that we're able to deliver those innovative features," he said.

Ampere's focus is on running scale-out workloads that are popular in a cloud environment. Altra and Altra Max come in 80-core and 128-core configurations, respectively, but they don't use hyperthreading like Intel Xeon and AMD Epyc use.

Wittich said hyperthreading isn't as reliable.

"We designed everything to be single-threaded. While hyperthreading does help you to utilize all the resources in the core, it also has a bunch of negatives. It creates less predictability and performance, because now you have multiple threads fighting for the same resources. You use those resources, all the time, but now you've got multiple users or applications fighting for the same resources. And so it creates an inherent unpredictability in the performance," Wittich explained.

For its next generation of Altras, Ampere plans to go beyond 128 cores, but it would not disclose as yet the next level of core count.

Ampere inks big partnerships

On the customer side, the company is making some big gains, with Microsoft, Oracle, and Tencent as partners. Other customers include CloudFlare, Equinix, Scaleway, and several Chinese cloud providers, including ByteDance.

Microsoft is obviously hedging its bets, as it also uses Marvell’s ThunderX Arm processor. Conspicuously absent are AWS, which has its own Arm home brew called Graviton, and Google and IBM, neither of which has committed to Arm.

Among the partners, only Oracle had made a prior commitment to Ampere. Microsoft, Tencent, and the others are newcomers. In particular, Equinix and CloudFlare are pretty big gets.

Wittich said that even though Ampere is all about the cloud, from hyperscale data centers out to the edge, Ampere is also targeting on-premises private clouds. "Anyone that's running a cloud is going to benefit from our processors. Azure Stack would work," he said.

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