Intel Announces Atom Micro Server Products, Discusses Xeon's Future

Today, Intel formally announced a new class of low-power Xeon processors meant to fill the growing demand for cloud computing servers. Intel has dubbed such servers micro servers, and believes they'll be the major source of server market growth in the next four years.

Micro servers are defined by the company as follows: "Micro servers are an emerging type of shared infrastructure server designed for unique data center workloads where many low-power dense servers may be more efficient than fewer, more robust servers." Put in simple terms, a micro server is to a blade server what blades once were to traditional rackmounts.

According to Intel's own Xeon predictions, product segmentation demand will scarcely change from 2010-2014. Intel's second graph is actually inaccurate—the 2014 column adds up to 101%—but this is probably a rounding error. What the company's calculations show is that cloud computing is the only area where Intel expects to see significant demand change.

Intel describes these new micro servers are "density optimized." They're half as wide as a 1U chassis and half as tall as a conventional blade server. This allows up to 4x as many servers per rack while Intel expects that multiple micros will be able to take advantage of centralized cooling fans.

Intel's multi-year strategy for this emerging segment begins this year with the introduction of three new Xeon processors: The E3-1260L (45W), the E3-1220L (20W) and a Sandy-Bridge based product at 15W that'll ship in the second half of this year. Most notable is the inclusion of a 10W Atom-based processor scheduled to ship at some point in 2012.

It's an open secret that AMD is already considering a Bobcat-based server product which means we might see a major dust-up at the ultra-low-power end of the server spectrum. At present, modern-day Atom processors are outpaced by Bobcat in virtually every category, but both AMD and Intel would have to add substantial capabilities to their respective designs in order to bring either chip to the server market.

Intel plans to create a Micro Server Evaluation Lab where software developers will be able to test their existing software on micro servers before actual products are available in channel. Intel is formally partnering with Dell, Tyan, and Sea Micro (thus far), all of which have their own examples of micro server chassis. Six percent of the server industry doesn't sound like much, but if we combine that growth with the predicted increase in server sales over the next four years, it comes out to a substantial chunk of revenue. As for AMD, we know the company is investigating Bobcat-based server products, but not what low-power Bulldozer-based products will be available.