Adam Selipsky, AWS CEO, on stage during his keynote address for Amazon's AWS re:Invent 2021.
Photo: AWS

The chip that will help AWS stay ahead of the cloud competition

Protocol Enterprise

Good morning, and welcome to Protocol | Enterprise. This Thursday: AWS’ secret chip sauce, Bret Taylor gets a promotion (kinda), and Oxide Computer thinks it’s time for a new operating system.

Chips in Vegas

AWS CEO Adam Selipsky’s first re:Invent keynote lacked the game-changing announcements that have surfaced during that address in years past. But it did remind current and potential customers that AWS has something that no other major cloud provider can offer.

Graviton3 is the most differentiated product on the cloud infrastructure market, and AWS is well ahead of Microsoft and Google when it comes to finding a way around the decades-long lock that Intel has had on the server processor market. “Across our top customers, they're pretty much all either porting or in the process of evaluating moving to Graviton just because the price-performance benefit is so significant,” Raj Pai, vice president for AWS’ flagship EC2 compute service, told Protocol at re:Invent.

AWS is extending its advantage with Arm chips, especially with this latest Graviton silicon. After years of waiting for Arm servers to arrive in the enterprise tech world, it’s pretty clear that they’re now here to stay — and that AWS is pulling out all the stops to make them appeal to customers.

  • SAP announced this week that it will port SAP HANA Cloud, its compute-intensive (and therefore expensive) in-memory database to Graviton.
  • The new SAP-friendly Graviton3 instances launched this week at re:Invent are up to 25% more powerful than the Graviton2 chips launched in 2019, and they’re also up to 60% more power-efficient.
  • That means businesses conscious about lowering their energy consumption might be able to justify using the new chips without as much of a hit — if any — to the performance of their apps.
  • Customers with applications written with interpreted languages (like Python, PHP, JavaScript) are finding it easy to migrate to Graviton, and AWS and its partners stand ready to help customers with older applications written in C++ move to Graviton, Pai said.

And these chips really do set AWS apart. Only Oracle has made a countermove against demand for Arm server processors, signing a deal with Ampere. Both Microsoft and Google have hinted in the past that they plan to design their own custom silicon for cloud buyers, but neither has anything to show for it.

  • Otherwise, the basic compute and storage services across all major cloud providers are pretty much exactly the same, which is what makes Graviton stand out.
  • AWS likes to talk about some of its under-the-hood hardware investments, like the Nitro system, but the value of Graviton is much easier to understand for cloud laggards hyper-concerned with price.
  • Combine that with the rave reviews of Apple’s Arm-based M1 chips, and it’s not surprising that the most scrutinized deal in tech right now is Nvidia’s pending $40 billion acquisition of Arm.

Yet there could be even more to come. Sure, there’s no doubt that “x86 is going to be there forever,” Pai acknowledged, given the massive amount of software that has been written for Intel and AMD’s chips. But the foundational applications of the next decade have yet to be written, and AWS thinks it will be able to support applications designed for aging x86 instances using virtualization technology while building out an Arm-server ecosystem, Pai said.

  • “I think for a long time, everyone was content with this 10% to 15% generational improvement. And I think we've really kind of demonstrated that we can do better than that; that everyone could be better than that,” Pai said.
  • A common knock on AWS is that as compute and storage become commodities, it will be harder for it to compete against Microsoft and Google with their bundles of business-application software.
  • But Graviton is a years-in-the-making cloud-infrastructure moat that is drawing converts focused on the most basic cloud computing question: How much will it cost to run my application?

There are definitely cloud customers that only need basic computing services, and might be happy to take what they can get in exchange for a discount on their business apps. But as AWS continues to do for the enterprise what Apple is doing for the consumer market, more and more businesses will kick the tires on Graviton.

— Tom Krazit (email | twitter)


In the world of retail, the companies that know their customers best are the winners. As consumer expectations evolve in a digital first world, VMware is helping retailers drive innovation to better transform operations, accelerate growth and improve the customer experience on a trusted digital foundation.

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This week on Protocol

Trailblazer: Salesforce promoted Bret Taylor to co-CEO this week in what appears to be the formalization of a succession plan for founder and CEO Marc Benioff that has been long in the works. Protocol’s Nat Rubio-Licht covered the news, noting that Salesforce’s last co-CEO organizational structure did not exactly end well. The Information also reported that Taylor will still report directly to Marc Benioff, which is a little surprising.

IoT IPO: As we noted earlier this year, Samsara could be the next big IoT company thanks to a focus on industrial applications. This week, Protocol’s Kate Kaye told you everything you need to know about its pending IPO, announced just prior to the Thanksgiving holiday break.

Hold the chips? The U.S. House of Representatives is sitting on a chip-making subsidies bill that could inject $52 billion into the industry at a time when chip shortages are a dinner-table conversation. Protocol’s Max Cherney reported that Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo urged Congress this week to pass the bill, which appears to have been put on the back burner during the push to pass the infrastructure bill.

Upcoming at Protocol

Join us Wednesday, Dec. 8 at 10 a.m. PT for The Year in Enterprise Tech, a live virtual event recapping the week that was at AWS re:Invent and discussing some of the most important trends and developments that will shape enterprise computing in 2022. Our panel features Sheila Gulati of Tola Capital, Liz Fong-Jones of Honeycomb and Corey Quinn of The Duckbill Group in a free-wheeling discussion moderated by Protocol's Tom Krazit. RSVP here.

This week in re:Invent

Meta selected AWS as its “key strategic cloud provider,"a big symbolic move from one of the last remaining enormous web companies running on its own homegrown infrastructure.

Adam Selipsky sat down for a wide-ranging interviewwith CRN on the future of AWS, with a special focus on how it interacts with the partners that drive a ton of enterprise spending.

AWS announced a new energy-industry initiative called the AWS Energy Competency Program, which will identify AWS partners specialized in working with energy providers. It’s part of an attempt to match Microsoft and Google’s focus on building industry-oriented cloud services.

Cloud-based digital twins are in high demand from industrial companies designing the future of buildings and other structures, and AWS now offers its own services for modeling building designs.

And one announcement warmed the hearts of enterprise computing practitioners of a certain age: AWS now supports ZFS, a file system with a rich history originally designed by Sun Microsystems.


In the world of retail, the companies that know their customers best are the winners. As consumer expectations evolve in a digital first world, VMware is helping retailers drive innovation to better transform operations, accelerate growth and improve the customer experience on a trusted digital foundation.

Learn more

Around the enterprise

Google submitted Knative, an interesting open-source serverless computing tool designed to work with Kubernetes, to the Cloud Native Computing Foundation.

Oxide Computer is building its own operating system called Hubris (yikes). It’s designed to run on its custom server hardware, which was first profiled on Protocol.

Thanks for reading — see you Monday!

This post was updated to clarify that SAP HANA Cloud will now run on AWS's Graviton processor.

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