Published in PC Hardware

Nvidia might enter ARM micro server market

by on09 May 2014

CEO sees a lot of market interest

A part of Nvidia's Financial Q1 2015 conference call Q&A session included some questions about micro servers, whether or not the 64-bit Tegra K1 can make it into the GRID market.

Nvidia's CEO Jen-Hsun Huang was a straight shooter saying that Nvidia is “seeing a lot of interest in putting something like Tegra in micro servers,” but he added a caveat: “one step at a time, one step at a time."

Jen-Hsun addressed the importance of the software component, or software stack for this market. He points out that the software stack Nvidia is building for GRID will eventually used on top of Tegra.

Denver could have what it takes

The Denver 64-bit architecture used in the Tegra K1 64-bit might have a shot in the micro server market as it will offer a lot of compute power and the CPU core should end up faster than the Cortex A57. Back at GTC 2014 we saw a demo at the GE booth where a single Jetson board hooked up to a camera over 10Gbit network port managed to trace a multiple targets at once.

The significance of such capabilities is that they can could easily find applications in the security market, drones, self-driving cars and all this can be done with close to 10W of power. Of course, this can be done with existing chips, but the CUDA powered Tegra K1 needs significantly less power to pull it off, which results in a much smaller footprint than say a 100W system that would handle the same task.

Eventually Nvidia could make a move in the traditional server market. The way things are going some 64-bit Cortex A57 servers might hit the market in early 2015 and Denver 64-bit might be the only custom based 64-bit ARM core ready at that time. Qualcomm’s 64-bit Krait is expected in the first half of 2015 and it might give Nvidia, AMD and other players a run for their money.

The server market is more than just chips and John Byrne, Chief Sales Officer at AMD, covered a few interesting points in a brief discussion with Fudzilla last month.

Does an ARM server push make sense for Nvidia?

In order to be successful in server market you need software, hardware, a great field application engineer network, customers that want to work with you and this is exactly why Calxeda failed. Nvidia has an advantage over Intel as it can do ARM based micro server, but then again, everyone else can. AMD is taking the ARM server market quite seriously and it has a lot more experience in the field than Nvidia.

Should Nvidia choose to proceed with an ARM server push, it will ultimately be a matter of research and development money that company can afford to put behind this risky strategy. Nvidia is making some progress with Tesla and Grid into the server market, but it will take some great products to convince Dell, HP and the rest of the market go your way.

In theory, Nvidia could leverage its compute software stack, but that’s only relevant in a handful of niches. AMD is targeting a much wider micro server market, while Nvidia could go after niche systems that would benefit from its compute tech. However, whether or not this niche is worth the investment remains to be seen. Both Nvidia and AMD can offer unique compute capabilities that could differentiate their ARM parts from the rest of the field (CUDA, Open CL), rendering their ARM server parts more competitive in a number of market segments.

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