Microsoft's Partnership With Qualcomm On Windows Server For ARM Should Send Chills Down Intel's Spine

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As if AMD’s new Ryzen processors weren’t enough to make Intel grab for a bottle of antacids, it looks as though Microsoft’s latest partnership could challenge the world’s dominant processor manufacturer in the lucrative server market (Intel commands well in excess of 90 percent of the server chip market according to IDC). No, we’re not talking about AMD’s Naples server chips, which also should give Intel pause, but Microsoft's efforts to ensure that Qualcomm ARM processors can run its Windows Server operating system.

Microsoft says that it has already built a version of Windows Server that offers native support for ARM chips, and it is using this branch of the operating system for its own internal purposes. Neither Qualcomm nor Microsoft have committed to a firm timetable on when Windows Server for ARM would be made available to the public.

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Qualcomm Centriq 2400 SoC and motherboard

However, both Qualcomm and Microsoft have submitted specifications for the server design, dubbed Project Olympus, to the Open Compute Project. At the heart of Project Olympus is Qualcomm’s Centriq 2400 processor. As we discussed back in December, the Centriq 2400 series processors can be equipped with up to 48 custom ARMv8 cores in a single socket, and can be incorporated into 1U service chassis designs.

“We are first in 10nm IC technology for mobile, and leveraging our expertise in ARM processors and system on chip design, we are the first with our Qualcomm Centriq family of server processors to bring the leading edge to the datacenter,” said Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and general manager for Qualcomm Datacenter Technologies, back in December.

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While it’s all fine and dandy for Microsoft to use Windows Server on ARM for its own purposes, when can we expect to see the Redmond, Washington-based company offer its software for enterprise customers? "It's not deployed into production yet, but that is the next logical step," said Microsoft's Azure VP Jason Zander in an interview with Bloomberg. "This is a significant commitment on behalf of Microsoft. We wouldn't even bring something to a conference if we didn't think this was a committed project and something that's part of our road map."

This isn’t Microsoft's first foray into bringing ARM support to its full-featured Windows operating system. Back in early December, Microsoft announced that Windows 10 will have native support for Qualcomm Snapdragon processors (Microsoft’s demos showed Windows 10 running on a Snapdragon 820). The first hardware products to ship with Snapdragon processors running Windows 10 will arrive during the second half of 2017.