Ampere Arm Chip Launched into Hot Datacenter Processor Market; Lenovo, Oracle on Board

By Doug Black

September 21, 2018

Another source of upheaval in the red hot datacenter server processor market emerged this week from Ampere, led by former Intel President Renee James, which announced it has launched its first-generation Armv8-A 64-bit chip.

Ampere eMAG processors from the Santa Clara-based company, formed earlier this year and now at nearly 400 employees, have already been selected by Lenovo and several ODMs, according to the company, and are designed to address cloud workloads, including big data, web tier and in-memory databases.

Ampere also announced a multi-generation product roadmap, including the planned availability next year of its 7nm single- and multi-socket chips. There’s some irony here in that James’ former place of employment, which she left in 2015 and which dominates the datacenter server processor market, announced last month the delayed arrival of its 10nm Xeon chip (the rough equivalent of others’ 7nm chips) until 2020.

Ampere’s Renee James

Another Intel irony: according to an article in the The (Portland) Oregonian, Ampere has used Intel as a recruiting base, with an informal survey of LinkedIn Ampere worker profiles showing that up to 80 percent formerly were at Intel.

A final, potential, Intel-related irony: James has been rumored to succeed former Intel CEO Brian Krzanich, who resigned last June. According to a report from Bloomberg (that James declined to comment on, according to The Oregonian), James has told employees that she will not return to Intel unless it purchases Ampere and hires her team.

At least one former fellow Intel employee, who requested anonymity, came away highly impressed with her as a colleague. “I worked at Intel for several years and can certainly attest to the doggedness of Renee James. Her energy and drive alone make this one to watch.”

“We have made tremendous progress since our launch eight months ago, continuing to execute on our first and second generation products,” said James. “More importantly, we are ahead of schedule on building out a robust, multi-product roadmap that meets the performance and features demanded by the cloud computing ecosystem. We are partnering with world-class OEMs like Lenovo and several ODMs to address the unique design requirements for our cloud customers and meet their total cost and performance targets.”

Ampere’s emergence is part of a larger trend toward “technology disaggregation” (Addison Snell, Intersect360 Research), the embrace of non-Intel processors, including GPUs from Nvidia, and CPUs and GPUs from AMD.

Commenting on Ampere’s announcement, Patrick Moorhead, president of industry watcher Moor Insights & Strategy, said, “It’s a good time to be an alternate supplier to Intel for server processors, but that doesn’t make it a lot easier. I view Ampere’s first-out processor as a ‘pipe cleaner’ to future, smaller, and more capable processors. I was impressed at the speed of its first product ship and I think given it leveraged some APM IP and given the team’s experience, the company made it happen. The next step is for the company to release end customers who are testing it and then talk about how chips have shipped for revenue. It’s a good start.”

Ampere claims TCO advantages for its eMAG platform, which offers 32 Ampere-designed Armv8-A cores running up to 3.3 GHz Turbo, eight DDR4-2667 memory controllers and 42 lanes PCIe 3.0 for high bandwidth I/O. Available now, the company said 32 cores at up to 3.3 Ghz Turbo is priced at $850, while 16 cores at up to 3.3 Ghz Turbo is priced at $550.

“We have been working closely with the Ampere team over the past several months and have been impressed with the team and technology,” said Paul Ju, VP/GM Hyperscale, Lenovo Data Center Group. “As the fastest growing server vendor in the world, Lenovo is rapidly growing as the new clear choice for hyperscale customers by designing customized boards and systems to each hyperscaler’s unique requests, and building through our own extensive global factory and supply chain network. Together with Ampere, we will deliver a new generation of servers designed specifically with these customers in mind, providing the leadership quality, consistency and value they’ve come to expect from Lenovo.”

Stated Oracle’s Edward Screven, chief corporate architecture, “Ampere’s high performance, high memory capacity and 2P roadmap provide a strong platform to support Oracle’s enterprise workloads. We applaud Ampere for its aggressive roadmap and rapid progress.”

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