SeaMicro, you’re on your own. (And it could be a good thing.)
According to Intel’s vice president and general manager of its Data Center Group, Kirk Skaugen, the chipmaker won’t be making a push into the server space with its low-power Atom processor. The market for servers comprised of several Atom processors, like the ones SeaMicro specializes in, is a limited one and will likely remain that way, he says.
That’s certainly true, at least in the here and now, but it’s likely to change as the growth of web services and cloud computing rewrites the rules for equipping data center. Skaugen does bring up a good point in that it’s counterproductive to write code for exotic architectures (don’t throw up roadblocks for your developers). But even in that regard, changes are afoot. Both Microsoft and Intel are pumping resources into “green code” and other initiatives to make computing more energy aware and efficient.
It’s a little disappointing that Intel continues to (almost exclusively) hitch its server chip wagon to Xenon and won’t be coughing up multi-Atom reference designs, but at least it seems content to keep supplying SeaMicro with Atom chips. Even if it’s a tiny niche now, it’s nice to see an innovator occupying it and hopefully profit from it. Plus, it helps ARM make some enterprise computing inroads. Sure, there’s the x86 incompatibility issue, but Austin-based startup Smooth-Stone is betting that companies and their coders will warm to ARM-based server architectures if they can help big data centers save millions in energy costs.
On the security front, Skaugen confirmed that Intel plans to use the newly-acquired cybersecurity know-how from its McAfee buy to imbue its chips with hacker-thwarting defenses. The plan is a proactive approach to security, giving hardware the smarts to detect and defend against unknown and zero-day threats. Sure, this could help save electricity by retiring security appliances — no need to double up on protection if the server is already on the lookout — but one of the most important goals is to help strengthen cloud security. And it’s going to take some serious security if the cloud is ever going to put old, inefficient data centers out to pasture. So here’s hoping that Intel’s secure server chips aren’t too far off in the horizon.