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AMD launches its Epyc server chip to take on Intel in the data center

Marc Ferranti | June 21, 2017
Epyc is a multimodule SoC based on the 'Zen' architecture of its Ryzen Threadripper PC processor, offering a whopping 32 cores

When it came out with the Opteron Dual Core processor in 2005, offering a twofold single-socket performance advantage over Xeon, it grabbed 20 percent of the market within two years.  But a few years later, bugs and postponements in the launch of its Barcelona chip architecture allowed Intel to recapture lost ground.

Then, AMD moved away from X86 architecture and embraced ARM, but Intel made technical advancements such as increasing power efficiency, reducing advantages that ARM offered. Several makers of ARM-based chips have gone out of business and by the time AMD released ARM-based servers, there was little interest.

At the March summit for the Facebook-founded Open Compute Project (OCP), Microsoft said it was working with Cavium and Qualcomm to embrace ARM as part of its Project Olympus next-generation modular system architecture for  cloud computing, but that alone is likely not enough to bring about actual deployments of ARM server chips anytime soon.

Meanwhile, also at the summit, AMD announced that it too was working with Microsoft to incorporate Epyc into Project Olympus. Unlike ARM chips, Epyc, which incorporates the X86-based "Zen" architecture of its recently launched Ryzen Threadripper processors for PCs, does not require software makers to rewrite code already tuned to x86.

A big part of AMD's Epyc rollout involves highlighting support it's getting from the industry, including declarations from HPE, Lenovo, Dell-EMC, Asus and Gigabyte. On the software side, Microsoft, Red Hat, VMWare, Xen, Suse and Citrix have certified or are in the process of certifying applications and databases for Epyc.

Ultimately, though, the proof that Epyc can make a dent in the market will come when  the hardware makers come out with Epyc-based systems, and users deploy them. Some Epyc servers are expected out in the next few quarters, with ramp-up of production extending into 2018. Likely, cloud providers and hosters will be among the first users.


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