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Huawei debuts Arm-based chip, eyes broader server market

Huawei’s Kunpeng 920 processor is geared towards big data and infrastructure applications, marking its foray into Arm-based servers that are set to change the dynamics of the datacentre market

Huawei kicked off 2019 with an Arm-based server chip aimed at big data processing, as well as distributed storage and other infrastructure applications in an effort to carve out a bigger slice of the broader server market.

Dubbed Kunpeng 920, the Arm-based processor was built using the seven-nanometre manufacturing process and independently designed by Huawei based on the ARMv8 architecture licence.

Huawei said the processor, which touts 64 cores running at a frequency of 2.6 GHz, will significantly improve processor performance by optimising prediction algorithms and improving the memory subsystem architecture, among other gains.

At typical frequency, the SPECint benchmark of the Kunpeng 920 CPU scores over 930, which is 25% higher than the industry benchmark.

At the same time, Huawei said the chip’s power efficiency is 30% better than that offered by industry counterparts, making it possible for datacentres to deliver higher computing performance while lowering power consumption.

The Kunpeng 920 will be used in Huawei’s new line of TaiShan servers, which will come in three varieties – one with a focus on storage, another for high-density datacentres, and a third focused on balancing both requirements.

Huawei will also run its cloud service on TaiShan servers to provide elastic cloud services, bare metal services and cloud phone services.

Although Arm-based processors are widely used in mobile devices, routers, set-top boxes, internet of things (IoT) devices and embedded systems, they are less common in datacentres as enterprise applications are typically written for x86 chips mostly made by Intel.

To drive development of Arm-based applications, Huawei said it has joined the China-based Green Computing Consortium, an industry group that promotes application development for big data, enterprise and cloud computing on platforms based on the Arm architecture.

It will also engage software partners such as Hortonworks, Microsoft, Red Hat, SAP, Suse, Ubuntu, and China Standard Software.

Even as the Arm ecosystem is opening up new opportunities for server suppliers, with the diversity of applications and a burgeoning artificial intelligence (AI) market driving heterogeneous computing requirements, Huawei’s director of the board and chief strategy marketing officer William Xu was careful not to alienate Intel when announcing the Kunpeng 920.

“Huawei has long partnered with Intel to make great achievements,” he said. “Together we have contributed to the development of the ICT industry. Huawei and Intel will continue our long-term strategic partnerships and continue to innovate together”.

Arm servers have been a topic of conversation in technology circles since at least 2011, when Calxeda made the first modern foray into building Arm chips for servers, according to Kuba Stolarski, research director for computing platforms at IDC.

“While initial concepts revolved around low-power servers for cold storage and dedicated web hosting, the Arm ecosystem has somewhat quietly evolved over the past couple of years to include more powerful cores, better integration with adjacent technologies, and support from major software ecosystems, including Linux, OpenStack and Windows,” said Stolarski.

Alan Priestley, senior director and analyst in Gartner’s semiconductors and electronics research team, noted that the entry of Arm into the server market will affect the dynamics of the datacentre market, creating market share shifts.

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