After years of waiting for someone to design an Arm server processor that could work at scale on the cloud, Amazon Web Services just went ahead and designed its own.
Vice president of infrastructure Peter DeSantis introduced the AWS Graviton Processor Monday night, adding a third chip option for cloud customers alongside instances that use processors from Intel and AMD. The company did not provide a lot of details about the processor itself, but DeSantis said that it was designed for scale-out workloads that benefit from a lot of servers chipping away at a problem.
The new instances will be known as EC2 A1, and they can run applications written for Amazon Linux, Red Hat Enterprise Linux, and Ubuntu. They are generally available in four regions: US East (Northern Virginia), US East (Ohio), US West (Oregon), and Europe (Ireland).
Intel dominates the market for server processors, both in the cloud and in the on-premises server market. AMD has tried to challenge that lead over the years with little success, although its new Epyc processors have been well-received by server buyers and cloud companies like AWS.
But lots of companies have tried and failed to build attractive server processors using the Arm architecture, which enjoys the same market share in mobile phones as Intel does in the data center. Acquired by Softbank in 2016, Arm designs processor cores that other companies use at the heart of their own chip designs, and companies like Qualcomm and Ampere have tried to build a business around the power-efficient Arm designs.
AWS’s server chip work builds on its acquisition of Annapurna Labs in 2015, DeSantis said. The cloud leader has been rolling custom silicon into its data centers at a gradual pace for specific workloads like machine learning, DeSantis told attendees at the 2018 GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit, but designing its own general-purpose processor is a grander undertaking.
Here’s a video of DeSantis explaining how AWS thinks about custom silicon at the Cloud Tech Summit: