When AMD launched its 1st Generation EPYC processor, it had a very narrow focus on where it would land—the cloud. While the CPU had many features that made it attractive to the enterprise, the company was measured in its approach. Of course, the company wouldn't turn away other opportunities, but its theme, "born in the cloud," left no ambiguity about where the company wanted to play. Further, the company lacked the hardware and software ecosystem support to compete in the enterprise in a meaningful way.
With the launch of its 2nd Generation CPU, a shift in the target markets could be seen. While the company was still winning in the cloud, enterprise IT organizations I spoke with were starting to take notice and the stigma of Opteron was quickly fading. Under Dan McNamara's leadership (ex-Intel), the company took a couple of quick steps to make a more vigorous run at the enterprise. Namely, it was the release of the company's F-Series EPYC CPUs and its parts that were tuned for enterprise workloads.
Last week, AMD launched its 3rd Generation EPYC CPUs, and I believe the company has fully arrived; it is poised to gain significant market share through gains it makes in the enterprise. I'll explain why in the following few paragraphs.
The server ecosystem is all in
I look at the server vendors to tell me whether a CPU has a trajectory in the market. If, for example, HPE sees demand for EPYC, one would expect the company to ensure it has the portfolio to meet its customers' needs. Conversely, if demand is tepid or stagnant, the company will certainly not increase its offerings. Instead, it will re-examine its portfolio and hold pat or potentially consolidate offerings based on roadmaps and outlooks.
Likewise, I like to look at how OEMs are positioning respective platforms in the portfolio of integrated solutions. For example, does a server vendor like Lenovo simply offer servers, or does it integrate these platforms into ready-to-deploy solutions that are much more consumable by IT? For example, solutions like HCI that are optimized for workloads such as VDI or analytics. Again, such decisions are based on feedback from the market at large and customers in particular.
Finally, I look to see if a server vendor uniquely positions its platform for a specific workload or purpose. In the case of Dell EMC, the company referenced its new EPYC-based XE8545 squarely at Artificial Intelligence. And Cisco looks at its newly launched UCS servers combined with its low latency networking Nexus offering as "the leading end-to-end solution for High-Frequency Trading."
The above aren't simply examples. In one way or another, each major server vendor has further embraced EPYC and made the CPU an essential part of respective portfolios.
As you can see above, EPYC is well represented in each server vendor's portfolios. The company now boasts over 100 server platforms with server partners.
So, beyond the "choice" discussion, why is this expanded portfolio so important? Because these portfolios span the range of form factors and sockets means an enterprise can now adopt EPYC as a whole to support the entirety of its needs. Low-cost single socket? Check. Dense compute for VM farms? Check. High-end servers to support EDA or HPC-like workloads? Check, and check.
Secondly, with the improvements made to EPYC's overall performance, OEMs can credibly position respective portfolios to support any workload an IT organization needs to deploy to support the business. For details on EPYC's performance, visit here.
What about software?
Like the server vendors, the ISV ecosystem seems to have fully embraced EPYC as both a first-class citizen of the datacenter and an optimal choice. And the benefits here are obvious. In this software-defined era, IT organizations select workloads and software to deploy in the datacenter. If there are specific requirements for infrastructure, so be it.
When EPYC first launched in 2017, ISV ecosystem support was somewhat lacking. The progression of enablement and support to this 3rd Generation of EPYC is impressive and removes any barriers from enterprise embracing an all-EPYC datacenter. So, with support and performance optimizations being made by many ISV partners, EPYC becomes a more attractive building block for IT organizations.
An excellent example of how the ISV ecosystem has embraced EPYC can be found in VMware and AMD's relationship and the enabling of Secure Encrypted Virtualization (SEV). SEV is a feature that was built into the original release of EPYC. In essence, it is a method of encrypting each virtual machine with a unique key. However, to make SEV work, modifications must be made to the hypervisor to fully isolate that encrypted VM. In layman's terms, think of having to drill holes in a hypervisor while still enabling the management and resource allocation for that VM. It's no easy task for a company like VMware to enable this. And as a result, the first generation of EPYC didn't have the support for SEV that would make it functional in the real world.
Fast forward two generations and SEV is not only supported by VMware; the company shared the stage with AMD at launch to talk in-depth about deepening the relationship. Not only did VMware discuss support for SEV-ES with vSphere and Tanzu, but performance optimizations for the EPYC microarchitecture. The belief from VMware is that virtualized and containerized environments will run faster and more securely on systems running this new EPYC CPU.
Where I think EPYC can also play well
While AMD and its server partners seemed to focus on critical workloads for the enterprise datacenter such as VDI, database, virtualized infrastructure, etc., I would have liked to see more emphasis on support for hybrid cloud and cloud-native environments (much like VMware discussed). Every server vendor has a solid play supporting the hybrid multi-cloud environments that so many enterprise IT organizations are struggling to rationalize. EPYC is a natural fit.
Hybrid cloud infrastructure begins with rich virtualization support, an area where EPYC can claim a leadership position. Likewise, containerized environments should run well on EPYC-based servers, whether those servers are virtualized or bare metal.
VMware's Cloud Foundation (VCF), Tanzu, RedHat OpenShift, HPE Ezmeral and the like, should all be good candidates for EPYC-based platforms. If these platforms aren't yet supported as a reference architecture or solutions offering, server vendors would be well suited to begin this work.
About three and a half years ago, I wrote a Forbes article that detailed AMD's challenges in winning back the enterprise. With the 3rd Generation of EPYC, I believe the company is well poised for success. It is not just because of the CPU, but because of its partners' who made the CPU viable and attractive to an IT professional.
It's going to be a good 2021 for EPYC.