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April 10, 2024

Google joins fellow “Big 3” hyperscalers in launching its own Arm-based CPU

The new CPU eases Google’s reliance on Intel and Nvidia in its efforts to challenge Microsoft and AWS in delivering AI and cloud services.

By Lauren Hurrell

Google has announced the launch of its first proprietary Arm-based central processing unit (CPU), Axion. Amazon and Microsoft have already launched their own custom-built Arm processors, and with Axion, Google becomes the third of the major cloud hyperscalers to do so.

According to Google, Axion processors combine the tech giant’s silicon expertise with Arm’s highest-performing CPU cores to deliver instances with “up to 30% better performance than the fastest general-purpose Arm-based instances available in the cloud today” and “up to 50% better performance and up to 60% better energy-efficiency” than that of the x86 chip architecture produced by Intel.

Initially, Axion will be used to support Google’s AI work in data centres. The chip is scheduled to be made available to Google Cloud’s business customers later this year, but it won’t be sold directly to customers. These chips are considered one of the few viable alternatives to Nvidia’s advanced AI chips, but developers can only access TPUs via Google Cloud’s platform.

“We’re making it easy for customers to bring their existing workloads to Arm,” said Mark Lohmeyer, Google Cloud’s vice president and general manager of compute and machine learning infrastructure. “Axion is built on open foundations but customers using Arm anywhere can easily adopt Axion without re-architecting or re-writing their apps.”

Google joins Microsoft and Amazon in unveiling its own custom-build Arm processor. (Photo by JHVEPhoto via Shutterstock)

Google’s first custom-built Arm processor

Google has been running its data centre workloads on chips based on IP from British designer Arm since 2022. Competing cloud operators Amazon and Microsoft have also been using Arm technology in creating their own custom chips. The Axion chips release comes less than six months after Microsoft’s release of its custom Cobalt Arm chips unveiled in November 2023. Amazon introduced its Graviton Arm chip in 2018,

Google’s parent company, Alphabet, gains three-quarters of its revenue from advertising, but its cloud revenue is accelerating. Cloud hyperscalers Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft maintain the top spots of market, accounting for over 50% of market share. Google Cloud follows in third with around 10%.

Axion chips are already being used to power various Google services such as YouTube ads and the Google Earth Engine. Google has also said that its customers will be able to use the Axion CPU in cloud-based services like Google Compute Engine, Google Kubernetes Engine, Dataproc, Dataflow, Cloud Batch and more.

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Google provides alternatives to Nvidia

Google is also updating its TPU AI chips that serve as alternatives to Nvidia’s GPUs for AI acceleration tasks.

“Google’s announcement of the new Axion CPU marks a significant milestone in delivering custom silicon that is optimised for Google’s infrastructure, and built on our high-performance Arm Neoverse V2 platform,” said Rene Haas, CEO of Arm. “Decades of ecosystem investment, combined with Google’s ongoing innovation and open-source software contributions ensure the best experience for the workloads that matter most to customers running on Arm everywhere.”

Read more: TSMC wins $6.6 billion in US government funding for chip production

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