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With Arm-Based 'Graviton' Chips, AWS Takes Aim at Intel

Amazon Web Services (AWS) announced some important news at this week's re:Invent conference for datacenter managers watching the rapidly evolving Arm processor market.

The company's new Arm-based server processor, dubbed AWS Graviton, is now immediately available.

Peter DeSantis, vice president of the AWS Global Infrastructure group, unveiled the new processors during his "Monday Night Live" keynote. DeSantis said the Graviton processors were built in-house by Annapurna Labs, which AWS acquired in 2015. Based on the Arm Neoverse "Cosmos" platform, the processors will power all new Amazon EC2 A1 instances, DeSantis said.

The Graviton processor is based on a 64-bit Arm architecture and features 16 cores per processor with up to 10Gbps of network bandwidth, the company said. The proprietary silicon is highly "optimized for performance and cost."

Five A1 instance are currently available, all built on the AWS Nitro System, which is a combination of dedicated hardware and a lightweight hypervisor. They're available in AWS datacenters in Northern Virginia, Ohio, Oregon and Ireland, and range in size from 1 to 16 vCPUs. There are several Linux distros available for the A1 instance, including Amazon Linux 2, RHEL and Ubuntu.

"We expect the A1 instance to be popular with educators and enthusiasts across the Arm developer community," DeSantis said.

Drew Henry, senior vice president and general manager of the Infrastructure Line of Business group at Arm, called the announcement "a seminal moment for the entire Arm ecosystem."

"Arm Neoverse represents a new unifying brand identity and vision for the Arm-based technology powering tomorrow's infrastructure from the core datacenter to the edge," he wrote in a blog post.

Arm Neoverse is a newly branded architecture meant to provide a viable alternative to Intel's x86 architecture in the datacenter market, and a step beyond its Arm Cortext line, best known as the leading processor for smartphones and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. The company is betting big on Neoverse, with promises to follow up the Cosmos platform with annual releases that are already named: "Ares," "Zeus" and "Poseidon."

With this move, AWS is taking on the leading provider of server chips, Intel, on whose Xeon processors more than 98 percent of the world's servers run. The company is making the Graviton chips available at a "significantly lower cost" than the Intel processors, the company has said. Earlier this month, AWS announced plans to offer services based on AMD processors, another Intel competitor.

About the Author

John has been covering the high-tech beat from Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly two decades. He serves as Editor-at-Large for Application Development Trends (www.ADTMag.com) and contributes regularly to Redmond Magazine, The Technology Horizons in Education Journal, and Campus Technology. He is the author of more than a dozen books, including The Everything Guide to Social Media; The Everything Computer Book; Blobitecture: Waveform Architecture and Digital Design; John Chambers and the Cisco Way; and Diablo: The Official Strategy Guide.

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