ARM-Based Servers – Looming Tsunami Or Just A Ripple In The Industry Pond?

From nothing more than an outlandish speculation, the prospects for a new entrant into the volume Linux and Windows server space have suddenly become much more concrete, culminating in an immense buzz at CES as numerous players, including NVIDIA and Microsoft, stoked the fires with innuendo, announcements, and demos.

Consumers of x86 servers are always on the lookout for faster, cheaper, and more power-efficient servers. In the event that they can’t get all three, the combination of cheaper and more energy-efficient seems to be attractive to a large enough chunk of the market to have motivated Intel, AMD, and all their system partners to develop low-power chips and servers designed for high density compute and web/cloud environments. Up until now the debate was Intel versus AMD, and low power meant a CPU with four cores and a power dissipation of 35 – 65 Watts.

The Promised Land

The performance trajectory of processors that were formerly purely mobile device processors, notably the ARM Cortex, has suddenly introduced a new potential option into the collective industry mindset. But is this even a reasonable proposition, and if so, what does it take for it to become a reality?

Our first item of business is to figure out whether or not it even makes sense to think about these CPUs as server processors. My quick take is yes, with some caveats. The latest ARM offering is the Cortex A9, with vendors offering dual core products at up to 1.2 GHz currently (the architecture claims scalability to four cores and 2 GHz). It draws approximately 2W, much less than any single core x86 CPU, and a multi-core version should be able to execute any reasonable web workload. Coupled with the promise of embedded GPUs, the notion of a server that consumes much less power than even the lowest power x86 begins to look attractive. But…

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The Rise Of The Sales University (Again)

The year was 1916, and the new "Bureau of Salesmanship Research" at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon) was launched in order to isolate and define the characteristics of successful salespeople. Founded by psychologist Walter Dill Scott, the bureau focused on identifying the training methods, processes, and personal characteristics necessary to sell complex products like insurance and financial services. Underwriting the organization were well-known names like Burroughs, Ford, Heinz, and Westinghouse. There, at the bureau, Scott went about the business of compiling what he could learn about improving "human efficiency." His work on compensation, loyalty, competition, imitation, and even "love of the game" led to a book on the subject that's now in the public domain (thanks, University of Virginia).

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US Tablet Sales Will More Than Double This Year

Today Forrester published its revised US consumer tablet forecast, updating its previous forecast from June 2010. When Apple's iPad first debuted, we saw the device as a game-changer but were too conservative with our forecast. Since then, we've fielded additional consumer surveys and an SMB and enterprise survey, conducted additional supply-side research, and seen more sales numbers from Apple. We've had briefings from many companies that will release new tablets at CES. All of these inputs have led us to revise our US consumer tablet forecast for 2010 upward to 10.3 million units, and we expect sales to more than double in 2011 to 24.1 million units. Of those sales, the lion's share will be iPads, and despite many would-be competitors that will be released at CES, we see Apple commanding the vast majority of the tablet market through 2012.

Forrester's US Consumer Tablet Forecast, updated Jan. 4, 2011:

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