Microsoft unveiled Monday a preview of Azure virtual machines powered by the Arm-based Ampere server chips, putting additional pressure on Intel's server teams to stay competitive.
The Ampere Altra chips powering the virtual machines will deliver a 50% price-performance improvement over x86 chips, Microsoft said. Last year Ampere said that it had inked a deal with Microsoft to provide chips for use in Azure. The virtual machines can be used for web, application and video game servers, among other uses.
“Organizations are facing a complex set of challenges as they deploy a broad range of workloads globally, from the edge to the cloud,” head of Product for Azure Compute Platform Paul Nash wrote in a blog post. “There is also a need for a new breed of operationally efficient cloud-native computing solutions that can meet this demand without a massive growth in infrastructure footprint and energy consumption.”
The virtual machines will support Ubuntu Linux, CentOS and Windows. Each machine will provide up to 64 virtual processors, with up to eight gigabytes of ram per processor, and optional high-performance local flash storage.
Ampere’s Altra chips and other Arm-based processors like AWS' Graviton have become more important to server buyers after years of promises, as companies seek chips that deliver higher performance with less power use. To date, Arm designs are far off from unseating AMD or Intel chips that dominate data center processing but continue to make gains, according to Jefferies data.
Microsoft announced its intention to offer Arm-based computing in Azure with chips made by Qualcomm and Cavium. Marvell acquired Cavium, and shut down the project; Qualcomm too killed the effort.Ampere is led by former Intel president Renee James, and quietly has raised more than $400 million from Oracle over the past several years. According to recent SEC filings, Oracle appears to control between 20% to 50% of the company.