Dell: 'If ARM works and costs less, we will use it'

Michael Dell, founder of Dell, says the company may work with Cambridge-based microprocessor company ARM in the future

Michael Dell, founder of Dell, has said the company may work with Cambridge-based microprocessor firm ARM for its mainstream servers.

At the Dell Solutions Summit in Brussels, Dell said: “If ARM works, really works, and costs less, we will use ARM.” 

Dell has a long-standing partnership with Intel on the datacentre side. The company has just released the 13th generation of its PowerEdge server suite, based on Intel’s newest Xeon chip, the E5 2600 v3.

ARM-based chips provide low-cost, low-power alternatives to Intel’s x86 chips, which dominate the server market.

“As ARM moves to 64-bit architecture, it becomes more interesting,” Dell said. “But today Intel is absolutely the best and that’s what customers want."

Dell said the company has a long-standing partnership with companies such as Intel because the capital required to build the next generation of semiconductors is significant. 

“We are co-dependent on each other. If you look at Intel’s revenue reports, you will find that Dell represents 15% of Intel’s 'other' revenue," he said.

“If you look at the enterprise customers, their infrastructures have a long tail of legacy IT, which have to be tested and certified, so they are not exactly jumping on the ARM bandwagon. But this may change.”

At the Open Compute Summit in San Jose, California, ARM launched a baseline standard for 64-bit servers, which it hopes will help it encroach on Intel’s traditional territory, powering commodity hardware in the datacentre.

The standard also has the backing of the Linaro Enterprise Group, a consortium of companies supporting the development of open-source software for the ARM architecture, including Facebook and Samsung.

But industry experts believe Intel’s processor technology is more advanced than ARM’s architecture. 

“You get more peak performance per thread on Intel than on ARM-based chips," Nebojsa Novakovic, a Singapore-based consultant at Computational Resource Centre has previously told Computer Weekly. 

Novakovic said ARM-based architecture is more suited to mobile devices and connected devices, such as the refrigerators and washing machines, not high-compute datacentres.

“Our industry is a 'change or die' industry, because the pace at which technology accelerates is really fast,” Dell said at the Solutions Summit today.

“IT today is worth $3tn. Only ten companies have more than 1% of this share and we have 2%,” he said at his keynote adding that this was because Dell is able to adapt quickly. 

He said the company will explore the possibilities of partnering with alternative semiconductor providers such as ARM if “that’s where the market is moving”.

Earlier this year, there were speculations that Apple could replace Intel chips with those made around ARM architecture in its Mac devices from 2016 onwards. 

The rumours were sparked by a blog from former Apple executive, Jean-Louis Gassee, in which he said: “When Apple announced its 64-bit A7 processor, I dismissed the speculation that this could lead to a switch away from Intel chips for the Macintosh line for a homegrown 'desktop-class' chip. I might have been wrong."

“I am not sure Dell embracing ARM for mainstream products is a good strategty,” said Ovum analyst Laurent Lachal. “The mobile and non-mobile world is coalescing and Intel has been more successful in moving into ARM’s low-cost chip territory than Arm has been in moving into Intel's space."

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