The looming introduction of a 64-bit ARM-based server core (production 64-bit ARM server chips are expected from a variety of vendors later this year) also changes the economics of developing a server chip. While Moorhead believes building your own core is a multihundred million dollar process, Andrew Feldman, the corporate vice president and general manager of Advanced Micro Devices’ server chip business, told me last December that it could be in the tens of millions.
Things are changing rapidly in the ARM licensing market. The cost of a license is reasonable, you just need to get a contract fabricator to help process the silicon wafers for you. As the pull quote says even someone “dabbling” in the custom silicon cpu market, the threshold and risk for an outfit like Amazon is pretty darned low. And like so many other fields and areas in the cloud services sector, many others have done a lot of the heavy lifting already. Google and Facebook both have detailed and outline their custom computer build process (with Facebook going further and drafting the Open Compute Cloud spec). Apple (though not really a cloud provider) has shown the way towards a workable, scalable and somewhat future proof path to spinning many revs of custom CPUs (granted ARM derived, but still admirable). Between Apple’s contract manufacturing with Samsung and TSMC for their custom mobile CPUs and the knowledge Amazon has in house for their own rack based computers, there’s no telling how optimized they could make their AWS and EC2 data center services given more time.
No doubt to stay competitive against Google, Facebook, Microsoft and IBM, Amazon will go the custom route and try to lower ALL the marginal operating costs and capital costs. At least as is technically feasible and is cost effective. There’s a new cold war on in the Cloud, and it’s going to be customized, custom made, ultra-tailored computer configurations. And each player will find it’s competitive advantage each step along the way, some will go for MIPs some for FLOPs others for TDM and all the marginal costs and returns will be optimized for each completed instruction for each clock cycle. It’s a brave new closed source, closed hardware world and we’re just the ones living in it, or should I say living in the cloud.