Arm TechCon 2018 is being held in San Jose, CA this week. MATT KIMBALL
Today at Arm TechCon 2018, Arm doubled down in the infrastructure space with the launch of its Neoverse brand of infrastructure related intellectual property (IP) and a brief glimpse at its roadmap. The Arm market vision is spot on, and the Arm team is saying all the right things. The question is, can Arm win in this space that has been historically dominated by x86? Or is Arm better off focusing on the markets it is most well-known for—phones and devices? Here are a few things you should know.
1. What was announced?
Arm announced the launch of its datacenter infrastructure IP portfolio, called Neoverse. While some may see this as a rebranding effort, there’s significance in the subtlety. While Arm has long supported the IP that powers datacenter infrastructure, this is the first time I can recall that Arm has carved this out so formally and publicly. Arm also announced three products on its Neoverse roadmap.
Figure I – Arm’s Neoverse roadmap. MOOR INSIGHTS & STRATEGY
2. Why did Arm make this move?
To understand the “why,” it’s important to start with the setup. Arm looks at the world a through a slightly different lens than others, starting with its own projection that there will be a trillion devices in 2035, generating, transporting and transforming unprecedented amounts of data. This explosion of devices and data, and the resulting paradigm shift is termed the fifth wave of computing.
Because of this, Arm looks at things NOT from the perspective of the datacenter to the edge, but rather the edge to the datacenter. This world will spawn a new software ecosystem, with applications and architectures that span from the device to the core datacenter. These applications will look for commonality of architecture across the device-to-datacenter continuum, that delivers the best performance in the lowest power envelope, and in the most secure fashion.
In Arm’s view, it is the company best-suited to deliver the IP to the ecosystem that will power this fifth wave of computing.
3. What does this mean?
In short, this shows Arm’s commitment to this market through a dedicated team that is designing datacenter infrastructure silicon IP from the ground up, with a focus on performance, scalability, and security. This appears to be Neoverse in a nutshell and the coming Ares, Zeus and Poseidon releases should be the manifestation of this.
Arm didn’t disclose too many product specifics beyond the bold claim of 30% generation-over-generation performance gains through 2021 and scalability that showed—well, real scalability.
This announcement should be good news to the silicon and systems ecosystem partners that are looking to design end-to-end industry-specific solutions.
4. Can Arm find success in the datacenter infrastructure market?
If one asked Arm if it could be successful in the datacenter infrastructure, I’m sure the response would be “we already are!” Remember that Arm has a big footprint in the datacenter by way of its presence in the networking and storage gear that powers the enterprise.
Let’s put a finer point on the question: can Arm find success in the server market? There are skeptics that would say “no,” but I disagree. I believe that the influence of IoT and edge will impact datacenter design as much as cloud computing has. Further, IoT and edge computing could disrupt this market faster than cloud computing. As edge computing grows and “software-defined” permeates the datacenter, the opportunity for alternative silicon architectures will grow and the barriers to adoption will shrink (Moor Insights and Strategy published a paper on this topic, that can be found here).
There is one very unique thing you must remember about Arm. It is a company that produces silicon IP, not silicon. Because of this, system and solutions providers looking to develop specific offerings for a target market have a lot of flexibility by building on Arm IP. In the world of an AI-driven edge, having this flexibility could prove to be invaluable to ecosystem partners.
5. How will you know if Arm is successful?
Pundits will opine on Arm’s announcement. The press will write glowing (or negative) reviews. Competitors will scoff. As an IT person focusing on how to get your arms around this thing called the edge, my advice is to forget about us all. Look to the ecosystem to see if Arm is successful and worthy of your attention.
Silicon (CPU) development and adoption is a long-life cycle—really long. Unlike software, we need to look at the ecosystem’s adoption and enablement of the Neoverse portfolio to really get a sense of Arm’s success. How many silicon vendors announce support and development projects around the Neoverse family? How quickly do the open standards communities such as Linaro enable and build tools?
Bonus question: Who is Arm’s biggest competitor?
Beyond the obvious x86 silicon providers, I think Arm is its own competitor, strangely enough. Arm has to do a few things to ensure success in this fifth wave of computing:
- (Continue to) Build the ecosystem. This is the most critical, and most difficult job for the team at Arm to execute. Arm must pour the time, resources, and dollars into building the most robust ecosystem. It cannot rely on its silicon partners. It cannot rely on its systems or software partners. It certainly cannot rely on end users to create demand. If Arm drives rich enablement of its IP from silicon to software, and from device to server, it will be successful. If not, then it won’t.
Figure II – The Arm ecosystem. MOOR INSIGHTS & STRATEGY
- Make the investments. Building an ecosystem comes at a cost. Additionally, Arm is competing against companies that are going to continue to invest ahead as they realize the importance of establishing an early leadership position.
- Be patient. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Neither will the smart city, the autonomous car, or the many other markets and usage models that will make up the “trillion device world.” Success will not come overnight, but if Arm is executing on the two first factors, patience will lead to success.
It is an exciting time at Arm TechCon. A compelling vision was painted by Arm and its parent company Softbank, rounded out with Arm SVP Drew Henry’s announcement of the Neoverse branding and roadmap. I believe in the story that’s being told, and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds