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AMD Aims for the Cloud via Seattle, Berlin & Warsaw

The ARM chip is part of AMD’s multi-pronged plan to “recapture” parts of Intel’s enterprise server citadel

Over the weekend Barron's put out a piece touting AMD's chances of taking share in the mainstream server market that belongs to Intel with its SeaMicro microserver acquisition, a development that would tickle its tiny stock price, if it ever happened. But even the thought of it, although the possibility is a ways off, tickled the shares Monday.

"SeaMicro's technology looks good; its management team, astute; and the market opportunities, promising," the story said.

It was the opening salvo for myriad articles sketching out AMD's already tipped plans to make its first ARM chip, a 64-bit processor that it expects to have sampling in the first quarter of 2014 with production following sometime in the second half.

The ARM chip is part of AMD's multi-pronged plan to "recapture" parts of Intel's enterprise server citadel.

There are two other more conventional x86 Opterons due out next year that AMD expects to put it in solid with the folks doing chi-chi stuff like Memcached, hosting, Hadoop, Cassandra, video transcoding and streaming, cloud gaming, VDI and hosted desktops, data analytics, HPC, xSQL and traditional databases and server consolidation. In other words, the fastest-growing data center and cloud computing workloads.

Former SeaMicro CEO Andrew Feldman, now general manager of AMD's Server Business Unit, said in a canned statement, "Our strategy is to differentiate ourselves by using our unique IP to build server processors that are particularly well matched to a target workload and thereby drive down the total cost of owning servers. This strategy unfolds across both the enterprise and data centers and includes leveraging our graphics processing capabilities and embracing both x86 and ARM instruction sets. AMD led the world in the transition to multi-core processors and 64-bit computing, and we intend to do it again with our next-generation AMD Opteron families."

That said, the ARM dingus is code-named Seattle and will be based on the ARM Cortex-A57, which ARM called Apollo. AMD will have to compete against other A57 widgets from Applied Micro Circuits, Nvidia, Cavium, Calxeda and others not to mention the arsenal Intel is building up to crush ARM's grasping fingers.

AMD's version of the chip is advertised as the industry's soon-to-be "only 64-bit ARM-based server SoC from a proven server processor supplier."

AMD admits that, well, maybe it doesn't have any experience making ARM chips - and AMD's manufacturing ills are legend - but on the other side of the scales it throws the fact that it's got more pure server experience than any other ARM licensee, its understanding of the server market and OEM and ODM relationships, the system expertise it got from SeaMicro and the insight gleaned from AMD Open 3.0 servers and the fact that it's got server-class IP blocks, which no other competitor has. That's nice, but it has to get the thing out the door first.

Anyway, Seattle will be an eight- and then a 16-core chip whose A57 cores will reportedly run at better than 2GHz. It's supposed to deliver 64GB DRAM support, extensive offload engines for better power efficiency and reduced CPU loading, server caliber encryption and compression, and legacy networking including integrated 10GbE.

It's also supposed to inherit SeaMicro's Freedom Fabric for dense compute systems. The fabric - AMD claims ARM servers need a fabric and it's got one - will be integrated directly onto the chip.

AMD reckons that Seattle will offer two to four times the performance of its Opteron X-Series, the recently introduced Kyoto chip, with significant improvement in compute per-watt.

AMD loves saying that Kyoto, the world's first server APU pitted against Intel's Atom S1200 and cast as the highest-density, most power-efficient small core x86 ever built, "beats Intel on nearly every benchmark." However, AMD needs a market win that turns into cash, not some benchmark glory.

Seattle is promising a high port-count storage interface optimized for Big Data.

The company is counting on power-sensitive cloud companies, particularly outfits like Google, Facebook, Amazon, Baidu, Salesforce.com, to suck up a lot of its Seattle-based microservers.

Just in case, though, AMD's also got a couple of more traditional x86 Opterons coming out next year code-named Warsaw and Berlin.

Berlin will be available as a 1P CPU or, like Kyoto, an APU. Designed to double the performance of the Kyoto part, it's supposed to deliver "extraordinary compute per-watt to enable massive rack density."

Figure four next-generation Steamroller cores and almost 8x the gigaflops per-watt of AMD's current Opteron 6386SE chip. It'll be the first server APU built on AMD's Heterogeneous System Architecture (HSA), which enables uniform memory access for the CPU and GPU and reportedly makes programming as easy as C++.

God willing - well, this is AMD after all - it will be out in the first half of 2014.

Warsaw is AMD's next-generation 2P/4P offering that improves the performance per-watt of the current Opteron 6300 family, good for stuff like data analytics, xSQL and traditional databases. It's supposed to be optimized for "unparalleled" TCO for two and four-socket servers. It too is due out in the first half of next year.

AMD says it'll be "ideal for the AMD Open 3.0 Server - the industry's most cost-effective Open Compute processor platform per-core."

AMD is light on many specifics, but then events are more than a year away and lawyers are on the patrol. If anything is going to tickle AMD's moribund stock price, some people think it's more likely to be the billion dollars it should fetch next year for powering both Sony's new PlayStation 4 and Microsoft's latest Xbox.

More Stories By Maureen O'Gara

Maureen O'Gara the most read technology reporter for the past 20 years, is the Cloud Computing and Virtualization News Desk editor of SYS-CON Media. She is the publisher of famous "Billygrams" and the editor-in-chief of "Client/Server News" for more than a decade. One of the most respected technology reporters in the business, Maureen can be reached by email at maureen(at)sys-con.com or paperboy(at)g2news.com, and by phone at 516 759-7025. Twitter: @MaureenOGara

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