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AMD scores its first big server win with Azure

News Analysis
Dec 06, 20173 mins
AMDData CenterMicrosoft

Azure instances powered by AMD Epyc are targeted at high-bandwidth applications.

amd epyc chip 7000 series copy
Credit: AMD

AMD built it, and now the OEM has come. In this case, its Epyc server processors have scored their first big public win, with Microsoft announcing Azure instances based on AMD’s Epyc server microprocessors.

AMD was first to 64-bit x86 design with Athlon on the desktop and Opteron on the servers. Once Microsoft ported Windows Server to 64 bits, the benefit became immediately apparent. Gone was the 4GB memory limit of 32-bit processors, replaced with 16 exabytes of memory, something we won’t live to see in our lifetimes (famous last words, I know).

When Microsoft published a white paper in 2005 detailing how it was able to consolidate 250 32-bit MSN Network servers into 25 64-bit servers thanks to the increase in memory, which meant more connections per machine, that started the ball rolling for AMD. And within a few years, Opteron had 20 percent server market share.

Then AMD stumbled, Intel got its act together, and the situation reversed itself. This year, Opteron accounted for less than 1 percent of server sales, according to Mercury Research.

AMD has the power, now it needs the customers

AMD is a competitive company again with its Epyc server processor, as benchmarks have shown. Now it just needs to win over the customers. And Microsoft is first by offering virtual instances running Epyc.

The new instances — Lv2-Series of Virtual Machine — target workloads such as MongoDB, Cassandra and Cloudera that are storage intensive and demand high levels of I/O, according to Corey Sanders, director of compute, Azure, who wrote of the news in his blog. Lv2-Series VMs will come in sizes of up to 64 vCPUs and 15TB of local resource disk.

AMD and Microsoft have been working on Microsoft’s Project Olympus, which is intended to deliver next-generation open-source hardware designed for cloud computing and developed with the Open Compute Community (OCP).

“We think Project Olympus will be the basis for future innovation between Microsoft and AMD, and we look forward to adding more instance types in the future benefiting from the core density, memory bandwidth and I/O capabilities of AMD EPYC processors,” said Sanders in a statement from AMD.

This is a big win for AMD, and if the Epyc instances deliver the performance they promise, it will be the first of many dominos to fall. AMD is pushing Epyc as a massively scalable and high-bandwidth solution thanks to its 128 lanes of PCI-Express connections per processor. It claims this provides more than 33 percent more connectivity than available two-socket solutions from Intel, which in turn means faster I/O.

Microsoft made Opteron a player 12 years ago. Will history repeat itself? We’ll see. One thing is for certain: Intel has its act together much more than it did in 2005 when it clung to Itanium as its 64-bit offering. It’s not going to just cede the server market to AMD this time.

Andy Patrizio is a freelance journalist based in southern California who has covered the computer industry for 20 years and has built every x86 PC he’s ever owned, laptops not included.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of ITworld, Network World, its parent, subsidiary or affiliated companies.

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