If you’ve been following the server CPU market, you’re undoubtedly familiar with AMD’s reemergence into the market with their Epyc platform. This brought almost unthinkable core counts to bear per socket. Intel is quickly catching up, with core counts now causing VMware to rethink how they license per-CPU socket.
Now the startup Ampere has announced it has started to sample a new 80-core 64-bit Altra processor. We’re talked about Ampere’s plans for Arm in the datacenter before on the Gestalt IT Rundown, and I’m still skeptical about where this chip fits into the larger enterprise landscape. All these cores are wrapped in a 210W package. For comparison, AMD says 64-core 2nd generation Epyc processors run anywhere from 200W-250W depending on the SKU.
Ampere plans to put these in 2 and 1 socket solutions, so you should be able to pack your datacenter with plenty of cores. Ampere talks a big game that as a platform, the Altra is faster than both top-end Intel and AMD solutions. The question is, how many organizations have the workload flexible to transition to Arm to take advantage of that? My guess is probably not many.
Ampere is targeting data analytics, artificial intelligence, database, storage, telco stacks, edge computing, and web hosting as ideal workloads for Altra. We’ve already seen cloud providers embrace offering Arm-based instances, so there is some demand there. The question is, is Altra is compelling enough given that many cloud providers are now starting to develop their own chips in house? AI, analytics, and edge computing seem like nature use cases for the tech, where you either need a lot of parallelization, low(ish) power usage, or both.
One underreported item in their announcement, however, is that the Ampere platform offers 128 PCIe 4.0 lanes in a 1 socket configuration, but 192 lanes in a two-socket configuration. That’s better than what you can get on Epyc or Intel’s processors, and could allow you some serious I/O expansion possibilities. Altra also offers 4 full speed CCIX lanes. Although given the seeming emergence of CXL as the next-generation high-speed interconnect, that doesn’t count for as much as it might have a few weeks ago.
Still, Ampere seems to have put out an innovative solution for those looking to go with Arm in the datacenter. Whether that’s enough to drive adoption, only time will tell.