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Posted by Richard Fichera on February 29, 2012
At its recent financial analyst day, AMD indicated that it intended to differentiate itself by creating products that were advantaged in niche markets, with specific mention, among other segments, of servers, and to generally shake up the trench warfare that has had it on the losing side of its lifelong battle with Intel (my interpretation, not AMD management’s words). Today, at least for the server side of the business AMD made a move that can potentially offer it visibility and differentiation by acquiring innovative server startup SeaMicro.
SeaMicro has attracted our attention since its appearance (blog post 1, blog post 2), with its innovative architecture that dramatically reduces power and improves density by sharing components like I/O adapters, disks, and even BIOS over a proprietary fabric. The irony here is that SeaMicro came to market with a tight alignment with Intel, who at one point even introduced a special dual-core packaging of its Atom CPU to allow SeaMicro to improve its density and power efficiency. Most recently SeaMicro and Intel announced a new model that featured Xeon CPUs to address the more mainstream segments that were not for SeaMicro’s original Atom-based offering.
So what does AMD hope to gain from this acquisition? The strategic goal is a differentiated server architecture into which it can insert AMD silicon and IP. The SeaMicro architecture shares many of the characteristics of the Calxeda/HP Redstone architecture and can potentially allow AMD to produce reference architecture for its system partners to leverage that gives them significant density advantages over any conventional x86 server offering. Since this architecture is initially targeted at dense computing environments such as those found in Web 2.0, cloud service providers and similar workloads, as well as potentially at conventional HPC, the prospects for AMD are interesting. Long-term success will hinge on several interlocking factors:
All in all, there are many ways this could play out, but it's a bold move and one that may serve to trigger a rapid change in the types of servers available to users over the next 24 months.
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