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Intel plays defense against ARM with Cloudera stake

Agam Shah | April 1, 2014
Intel's US$740 million investment in software company Cloudera will help sell more x86 chips in Hadoop installations, but it could also be a defensive move to maintain its server lead from the emerging threat posed by 64-bit ARM servers.

The primary goal behind Intel's investment in Cloudera is unclear, but the chip maker may be trying to secure more development for x86 over ARM architecture, said Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research.

"This may secure Intel's leadership in Hadoop deployments or just delay the inevitable" of ARM taking market share away from Intel, McGregor said.

But McGregor expressed doubts that Cloudera would totally abandon ARM, which could be successful in some applications and segments of the server market, as well as in budget-conscious server deployments.

"Altering a company's product strategy based on one partner or investor would be foolish and very shortsighted. But then again, look how long Dell was an Intel-only vendor," McGregor said.

It's early to predict how ARM-based servers will do, but the deal is Intel's acknowledgement of Cloudera's growing heft and influence, said Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT.

"Even if Cloudera slows or halts development for ARM, if demand grows, I expect that other Hadoop players will fill the void," King said.

Analyst Patrick Moorhead agreed, saying someone will pick up the slack on Hadoop development for ARM.

Intel's investment may have a short-term impact, but it won't hurt ARM servers in the long run, said Moorhead, who is president and principal analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

"OpenStack [cloud computing software] is the most important development for ARM servers and that is progressing quite nicely. I don't think Intel is cornering the market on Hadoop as there are other alternatives that may play even better than Cloudera," Moorhead said in an email.

ARM servers are of interest to companies that process large volumes of Web transactions. HP said it would put ARM server chips in its Moonshot server, and Facebook and Google have also experimented with ARM chips in data centers.

Asked for comment about the Intel investment in Cloudera, ARM did not comment specifically on the deal, but a spokesman said that many ARM partners are already involved in Hadoop development.

Intel will continue to throw additional resources at software, analysts said. Intel is already customizing chips for certain customers such as Facebook, which needs processors tuned to run specific applications.

"In the long-term, the market will determine the hardware and software platforms that are used," Tirias Research's McGregor said.


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