Ampere trials AmpereOne server processor with customers

Next generation of Ampere’s server processors features customized Arm cores and is aimed at cloud data centers.

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Ampere Computing introduced the next generation of its Arm-based server processors and said it has begun sampling the chip to select customers.

Former Intel president Renee James launched Ampere in 2018, and the company so far has released two processors aimed at cloud data centers: the 80-core Ampere Altra and the 128-core Ampere Altra Max. Those processors used cores licensed from Arm Holdings. But now, with the new AmphereOne chip, Ampere has created customized versions of the Arm processor cores to better tailor them to customer needs. 

James introduced AmpereOne during a video update posted to the company’s website. She said the new chip supports DDR5 and PCI 5.0 and is built on a 5mn process node, but she didn’t go into any further detail.

“We're excited about the initial feedback and performance our customers are experiencing with our latest Ampere cloud native processor,” James said. “You will hear more about the performance, the number of cores and other exciting capabilities of the AmpereOne as we get further into the year … Ampere continues to move forward on our annual cadence of products as we've committed every year.”

Arm-based server chips to date have been hit-or-miss. There have been notable failures, such as Applied Micro, Broadcom, Cavium/Marvell, Qualcomm, Samsung, AMD, and Calxeda. And there have been notable success stories, too: Fujitsu with the Fugaku supercomputer, AWS with its homegrown Graviton series, and Nvidia with the Grace CPU (granted it’s not out yet, but who bets against Nvidia?).

Ampere has scored some big wins among cloud providers, including Oracle Cloud, Equinix Metal, Tencent Cloud, and Baidu. Plus, Microsoft recently announced a public preview of Azure virtual machines running on the Ampere Altra processor.

Oracle, as it turns out, has become a significant supporter of Ampere. It started with a $46 million investment in 2017, and its investments to date have piled up to more than $426 million, according to multiple SEC filings. 

Why is Oracle investing so much in a startup? Kevin Krewell, principal analyst with Tirias Research, has a theory. “From my perspective, Oracle wanted an alternative to Amazon Graviton. The company shut down its Sun SPARC development so had no alternative to x86. Ampere gives Oracle an alternative,” he told me.

And sure enough, its Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI) service does offer Ampere-based instances, and for pretty cheap, too, at just $0.01 per core hour. So Oracle does have an Arm competitor to AWS Graviton.

All told, James said there are more than 40 server platforms supporting the Ampere Altra family of processors (both the 80-core and 128-core versions), and seven of the world's largest hyperscalers are deploying the processors in their data centers.

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