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March 8, 2017

Microsoft commits to using ARM server chips in challenge to Intel’s data centre dominance

Microsoft has already started running Windows Server on ARM - but just for internal use.

By James Nunns

Microsoft has decided to optimise its Azure cloud services for ARM64 servers as part of a deal that’ll see the two companies collaborate on current and future data centre technologies.

The big thing about this deal is that typically Intel has dominated the chip market when it comes to cloud data centres, but Microsoft’s decision to commit to using chips from ARM is a potential threat to this, mainly due to the scale of Microsoft’s cloud data centre footprint.

According to Dr. Leendert van Doorn, Distinguished Engineer, Microsoft Azure, Microsoft, the company has been working closely with ARM server suppliers such as Qualcomm and Cavium in order to optimise their silicon for its own use.

Van Doorn said: “We have been running evaluations side by side with our production workloads and what we see is quite compelling. The high Instruction Per Cycle (IPC) counts, high core and thread counts, the connectivity options and the integration that we see across the ARM ecosystem is very exciting and continue to improve.”

According to the Microsoft employee, the decision to optimise the hardware to the workload instead of the other way round is more economically feasible due to the scale required for certain cloud services, “even if that means changing the Instruction Set Architecture,” said van Doorn.

Microsoft has already been putting the ARM tech to work by porting a version of Windows Server, for internal use, to run on ARM architecture.

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“We have ported language runtime systems and middleware components, and we have ported and evaluated applications, often running these workloads side-by-side with production workloads,” said van Doorn.

While Microsoft took the more technical focus, ARM took to its blog to say, “Microsoft shakes up server market…” and cited the increasing diversity of server workloads in the data centre as a reason behind the decision making.

All of this comes out as part of the Open Compute Project Summit in California, where Microsoft is demonstrating the version of Windows Server running on ARM-based servers.

Van Doorn said: “The Qualcomm demonstration will run on the Qualcomm Centriq 2400 ARM server processor, their recently announced 10nm, 48-core server processor with Qulacomm’s most advanced interfaces for memory, network, and peripherals.”

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