ARM-based servers make sense for the new computing requirements created by services such as social networks and online gaming, said Lisa Su, an AMD senior vice president and general manager. Those workloads need a processor that can efficiently handle very large volumes of small transactions.
"The data center is being inundated with massive amounts of data and there has to be a way to do it more efficiently in a smaller space with a lower cost point," she said.
ARM architectures are considered more energy-efficient for some workloads because they were originally designed for mobile phones and consume less power. That has attracted several vendors to the space, including Calxeda, Applied Micro and Marvell, all of whom are developing ARM-based chips for servers.
AMD hopes to distinguish itself with two SeaMicro technologies -- a custom chip that integrates many components from a traditional server board onto one chip, allowing for dense server designs; and its Freedom Fabric, which can connect thousands of servers in a cluster with low latency and at relatively low cost.
"The fabric technology is the secret sauce; this is what will make AMD's server solution different from other vendors," Su said.
Intel has said it won't make ARM-based processors, in part because it doesn't want to pay ARM a royalty on each chip. But it has been working hard to reduce the power consumption of its own server chips and said it is confident of its technology roadmap.
The company is due to release a low-power server chip in the second half of the year code-named Centerton, and will follow that up next year with a part dubbed Avoton.
"We have what is required by customers -- low powered CPUs, support for key server features, and software compatibility to allow use of current workloads and not force any migration," Intel spokesman Radek Walczyk said via email.
That still doesn't give it an equivalent to AMD's Freedom Fabric, however.
"Think of the chip as half the battle," said Moorhead, the industry analyst. "The part of the battle [Intel] hasn't discussed yet is the fabric that makes hundreds or thousands of these parts talk to each other. That's the magic that guys like Calxeda and AMD are bringing to the table."