Qualcomm made waves today at the Open Compute Project (OCP) US Summit when they announced a new collaboration with Microsoft, aimed at “accelerating next-gen cloud services” on Qualcomm’s 10 nanometer, 48-core Centriq 2400 platform. At Moor Insights & Strategy, we’ve been following Qualcomm’s efforts to break into the server market for a while now. We still believe the industry desires competition as Intel owns 99% of the server space.
While many companies like Calxeda, APM, AMD had some big, previous “less than impactful” rollouts at OCP years back, I view this Microsoft collaboration as potentially a crucial piece of the puzzle for Qualcomm—and at the very least, I think it’s a step in the right direction and shows a step-function increase in Qualcomm’s server credibility and rollout. This is the kind of announcement you would expect at this juncture before potential public cloud rollouts.
First, some background: Qualcomm’s recently announced Centriq 2400 is billed as the world’s first 10nm server processor—based on an instruction set from ARM Holdings. While Intel’s Xeon processors are based on a 14nm architecture, we do not yet know Centriq’s die size, power, price or performance , so there’s no way to empirically compare yet. Also, I am not in the camp of 10nm is always better than 14nm as Intel’s 14nm is superior to others with high performance, high-leakage designs. I am looking forward to more Centriq details.
Appears a deepening relationship between Microsoft and Qualcomm
It is important to note that the Qualcomm and Microsoft relationship actually spans corporately from mobile to the datacenter. Last quarter, Microsoft announced support for Windows 10 on Qualcomm’s next-gen Snapdragon processors and now the two companies are going public with their datacenter plans. The datacenter-focused collaboration between Qualcomm and Microsoft has several different elements to it.
An OCP server specification
First, Qualcomm is submitting a server specification using the 10nm Centriq 2400 processor to the Open Compute Project, with the objective of enabling cloud workloads to perform on the Microsoft Azure platform, powered by Qualcomm’s Centriq 2400 server solutions. This new server specification is based on the most recent version of Microsoft’s Project Olympus, Microsoft’s next-gen hyperscale cloud hardware design geared towards open source hardware development within the OCP ecosystem.
Qualcomm’s Centriq Open Compute Motherboard offering to the OCP opens up access and design of ARM-based servers to the OCP community, and according to Ram Peddibhotla (VP Product Management of Qualcomm Data center Technologies) will go great lengths towards “democratizing system design and enabling a broad-based ARM server ecosystem.” The motherboard fits inside a standard 1U server system, which in turn gives vendors flexibility to innovate with their designs. Another great feature of the offering is that it can work in conjunction with compute accelerators, multi-host NICs, and storage technologies for specific workload optimization. The cherry on top of all of this is that Qualcomm also announced today that they have joined the Open Compute Project Foundation as a gold member—which in my opinion is a good show of commitment to the open ecosystem.
Windows Server on Centriq demonstration
The other big news coming out of OCP today was that Qualcomm conducted their first public demonstration of Microsoft Windows Server on Centriq 2400, a big step for the partnership. The Qualcomm-Microsoft relationship isn’t entirely new—the two companies have been cooperating for several years on ARM-based server enablement, and Qualcomm actually has onsite engineering at Microsoft that has enabled the optimization of the Microsoft Windows Server software bundle on Qualcomm’s Centriq 2400-based systems. The goal has been to enable the internal usage of Microsoft in Qualcomm’s data centers, and the demonstration today showed us that they’re making good progress in that direction.
All in all, I think this collaboration is a good for Qualcomm and Microsoft. I think Qualcomm’s server specification offering to the OCP will make progress in the two companies’ objective of helping building out the ARM-based server ecosystem, which has had many fits and starts with Calxeda, APM, Broadcom and AMD. The successful demonstration of Microsoft Windows Server on the Centriq 2400 shows that the two companies are making good progress in their goal of enabling Microsoft’s internal usage in Qualcomm’s datacenters. It’s of note that I believe this collaboration is not just a “one and done”—it is part of a multi-year effort and will span across several future generations of hardware, software, and systems. I have seen many chip collaboration announcements turn into zero deployments in the datacenter, so I am anxiously awaiting high-volume deployment commitments and then actual deployments. Microsoft is not making that commitment here, they are making the commitment to invest many resources for a potential deployment. Time will tell if Qualcomm can pose a formidable challenge to Intel’s dominance in the datacenter, but I think this ongoing collaboration will likely help move it to the next step.