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Qualcomm Chasing Clouds With The Launch Of Centriq 2400

Moor Insights and Strategy , Contributor
Straight talk from Moor Insights & Strategy tech industry analysts
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Matt Kimball

Matt Kimball is a senior datacenter analyst covering servers and storage at Moor Insights & Strategy

This week, Qualcomm officially jumped into the server chip market with the launch of its Centriq 2400 System on a Chip (SoC) in a server market that has seen a steady stream of product launches from AMD and Intel. Though Qualcomm announced Centriq some time ago, this launch represents a significant shift in the industry as we see the first performant Arm based server chip. For years, the question has been “can Arm find a place in the datacenter?” Based on what Qualcomm delivered, I believe the answer is “yes.”

What is Centriq?

Centriq is Qualcomm’s 48-core server processor comprised of 24 core pairs connected via a 250GB/s ring topology. This represents the highest number of cores per socket available in the server market. It was designed on the ARMv8 architecture to support scale-out datacenter architectures commonly seen in cloud environments.

Centriq is manufactured in Samsung foundries, using a 10nm FinFET process. What does this mean? Better performing transistors packed into a smaller space (18 Billion transistors in 398 mm2). Moreover, what does this really mean to an IT consumer? Better performing cores that consume less power.

The Centriq lineup will have three shipping SKUs:

Centriq lineup

Centriq will only support single socket server motherboard designs. Moreover, from the demonstrations shown at Qualcomm’s launch event – it appears half-width “brick designs” are what the market can expect to see from hardware vendors. This would make sense as Qualcomm focused its entire event on demonstrating cloud affinity...

The reason why companies failed in the past came down to performance. Arm server chips just couldn’t match the performance of their x86 counterparts. Even in the low end of the market, Intel was able to stave off Arm with the position of Xeon D.

Things are different this time around. Qualcomm claimed pretty impressive performance numbers during its launch event. When running SPECint_2006, the Centriq 2460 saw about 7% better performance than the Intel Purley Platinum 8160. Granted, they are comparing their 48 cores against 24 Skylake cores, but it is a competitive socket.

However, cloud providers do not just look at raw performance. “Price/performance” is a key measurement for success in the cloud as this articulates amount of productivity per dollar. Moreover, this is where Centriq has a real story, claiming up to a 4x advantage over Purley.

Centriq is tailored for cloud environments

If it has not yet been obvious, Qualcomm is targeting cloud providers with Centriq. Not just Azure, Amazon, Google, Alibaba and the like, but also the tier two players who provide “as a Service” to consumers. This seems like a good fit for a few reasons:

Density –The half-width form factor should make Centriq racks highly compute dense.
Price/performance – It appears Qualcomm will be able to claim bold price/performance leadership. This is especially attractive to cloud providers who live and die by OpEx.
Security – By implementing Arm TrustZone, Centriq delivers an immutable root of trust for servers. This prevents attacks at the lowest levels from penetrating cloud datacenters.
Power – A 120W TDP is not impressive. Being able to drive down idle power consumption to 8W is. This is what Qualcomm has achieved with Centriq.
Loyalty (or lack thereof) – Economics drive cloud providers. Not legacy. Not loyalty. If Qualcomm can really achieve a price performance advantage they claim – cloud providers will jump. Not only to lower their operational costs. However, to apply pricing pressures to their other CPU vendors.
Is there a Centric ecosystem? Is there an Arm server ecosystem?

One of the more impressive takeaways from the Centriq launch was the lineup of ecosystem partners demonstrating their wares on Centriq. NoSQL, Bioinformatics, video processing, AI, cloud infrastructure. There was a breadth of technology partners that spanned the entire ecosystem on display. Qualcomm was smart to recognize the importance of this robust ecosystem and smarter still to develop those relationships.
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