Home > linux, ubuntu > Microsoft pushing for 16-core Atom CPUs: something to do with Linux?

Microsoft pushing for 16-core Atom CPUs: something to do with Linux?


According to this article, Microsoft is pestering Intel to produce low-power Atom-based, x86 processors for server machines.

I am wondering why they would force this direction. Do they know server requirements better than Intel? Why do they think that low-power x86 server chips are so important?

I believe the answer comes from the following factors:

  • Power efficiency is becoming more and more important in the server room. Intel processors (Microsoft’s home turf) have less than stellar watt/performance efficiency but they are the best in raw performance / cores.
  • ARM provides the best watt/performance in general computing (far far better than Intel x86) and ARM is seemingly scalable to the server performance range (with multiple cores and coming to 28nm high-performance production processes)
  • Microsoft doesn’t have a server operating system presence on the ARM architecture. Linux on the other hand runs on ARM, has optimized distributions for ARM SOCs.
  • ARM licensees are actively pursuing server chips (Nvidia, Nufront…etc)

If 4-16 core ARM server processors appear in the near future, servers built with them would have superior watt/performance ratios so they may quickly gain acceptance.

These systems would be perfectly served by Linux distributions (Red Hat, Ubuntu, Suse) and Microsoft could not offer anything for them. Linux is already the strongest player in the datacenter and this would grow its market share considerably while reducing the market-share of Windows simultaniously.

Even if Microsoft manages to create a stable Win8 server OS solution with all the required additional Windows sw (database systems, application servers…etc) on ARM in 2-3 years, it will be pretty much too late. They will need to play catch-up with Linux. The Microsoft Win8 solution will have to sell for peanuts to be in the game which would make it very much unprofitable in the short-medium run. Moreover, as x86 server market share goes down, their x86 Windows Server OS profits also go down.

All in all: If ARM processors appear in the market in the near future, Microsoft may face a steep uphill battle in the datacenter. If x86 based Atom server can slow down the onslaught of ARM servers, Microsoft may gain enough time to come up with a Win8/ARM server solution and avoid serious loss of server market-share.

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Categories: linux, ubuntu
  1. Chris cox
    January 28, 2011 at 22:33 | #1

    Microsoft has caught embedded fever. The have ported (already) Windows and variants (yes… I’m talking Windows 7 AND Windows Server) to low end processors (even non x86) and are merely wanting make sure they can establish a functional footprint there without compromise.

    • January 29, 2011 at 05:42 | #2

      Chris cox writes: “Microsoft has caught embedded fever. The have ported (already) Windows and variants (yes… I’m talking Windows 7 AND Windows Server) to low end processors (even non x86)…”

      Really? Have you seen it? Microsoft has a long history of announcing vaporware (lying, that is) to dissuade developers from working on alternative platforms.

    • January 29, 2011 at 12:50 | #3

      There was a specific announcement not long ago that Win7 will NOT be ported to ARM. Only Win8 will support ARM.

      Do you have some Microsoft links about the ARM version of Win7?

  2. d2
    January 30, 2011 at 04:04 | #4

    Anyone that says that datacenter linux is a bargain next to windows hasn’t priced Red Hat, SuSE, Ubuntu or Oracle Linux enterprise licensing lately.

    (and corporations insist on buying support contracts far more often than not)

    • January 30, 2011 at 10:36 | #5

      If you run a large number of server OS instances on a lot of machines and you don’t need a support contract (because you have a Linux admin) then Ubuntu Server is a bargain at the $0 licensing fee.

      If you run a huge number of OS instances (e.g.: VPS provider), then even Ubuntu support contracts are moderately expensive.

      If you are willing to learn some admin work, then you can have private, small-company servers running completely license and support-contract free. My 3 Ubuntu 8.04 servers have been running problem-free for more than 2 years now. $0 license fee and $0 support-contract fee.

      • el-kik
        January 30, 2011 at 12:44 | #6

        All critical servers need additional support licensing, depending on the business cost of having the production servers down. If for any reason you have a committed SLA, then you’ll need to pay the extra license. Having said that, the whole debate about ARMS/Intel, Windows/Linux will be transparent to most of the corporations (in 5 to 10 years), since it will all be in the cloud as the trend towards SAAS “Software as a Service” increases (ex: SalesForce.com).

    • Ken
      January 31, 2011 at 06:50 | #7

      One thing you forgot to mention is it typically takes MS server software 3x the hardware to do the same functionality as Linux.
      You also forgot to mention that MS still requires scheduled downtime/reboots in order to continue to function – unless “function” includes getting hacked and borked. Which also relates to lost revenues and more admins required to keep the systems stable.

  3. Peter Erskine
    January 30, 2011 at 21:48 | #8

    Neither ARM nor Atom are much use for servers. They aren’t designed for that role and they don’t serve it well. There would have to be some peculiar special-purpose situation that HAD to sacrifice performance for power-savings before these types of chips would be justified.

    • January 31, 2011 at 16:55 | #9

      How about using less power and so generating less heat and thereby being able to run at higher clock speeds? Noticed that clock speeds for x86 backed off from 4Mhz? That’s because the x86 architecture has all sorts of ugly leftovers built-in. A clean design like ARM should be able to out-perform x86, and the new mass-market in cellphones, tablets, and other new general purpose computing devices make such a revolution possible.

  4. ram
    January 31, 2011 at 06:44 | #10

    The Intel ATOM chips run the AMD-64 versions of Linux – and they do so really well. The small little low power boxes, from Shuttle for example, make perfectly good servers for small to medium enterprises. Presently they run 4 threads at once (4 Penguins), more would be merrier even for Linux.

  5. Je Monly
    January 31, 2011 at 19:30 | #11

    Intel should make Microsoft buy the CPUs… made to order. Then it’s up to Microsoft what they want to do with the CPUs.

  6. Lucian Armasu
    May 2, 2011 at 18:36 | #12

    I think it’s because they have inside access about Nvidia’s ARM based Project Denver chip, which I think will be either a custom design CPU or a Cortex A15 design, and will have 16 cores at 2.5 Ghz each. It’s intended for the server market.

    But why would Microsoft care about this? They do because, even though they are porting Windows 8 to ARM, they are doing this out of necessity, but they would much rather have the world continue to run on x86 chips and use all the Windows legacy apps. The ARM version will dramatically disrupt that app legacy, but they have to do it anyway, just in case the world is actually moving to ARM chips. But they’d much rather have Intel win this one and push back ARM – which they won’t be able to do anyway.

    But yeah, my guess is they know Nvidia’s Project Denver is also 16 core so they don’t want Intel to remain behind because that would be pretty bad news for them too.

  1. January 28, 2011 at 22:28 | #1
  2. January 30, 2011 at 01:15 | #2
  3. January 30, 2011 at 17:29 | #3

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