Qualcomm to keep server CPUs but avoids head-on Intel battle

Plans to target greenfield hyperscalers, skip boring old servers

Qualcomm president Cristiano Amon has said the company has no plans to dispose of its Arm-powered server CPU unit.

Speaking to Reuters, Amon rubbished whispers that Qualcomm wants out of the server CPU business.

But he also explained that the company doesn’t really want in, either, because Qualcomm won’t go head-to-head with Intel for general purpose servers.

“It’s very clear to us that the ARM opportunity is focused on a few players where you don’t have the software x86 barrier to entry,” Amon told the newswire. The company will therefore target hyperscalers who roll their own stacks and haven’t already done so on Intel or AMD silicon.

Such buyers could be huge customers: internet giants buy vast numbers of servers. Telcos building for 5G and network function virtualization will do likewise. Selling such customers one architecture for all the pieces of the data centres and networks they’ll need could help such customers differentiate. Selling direct to operators could also give Qualcomm a chance in deals like AT&T’s plan to replace 100,000 routers with white boxes.

With that reduced ambition comes a reduced team working on the tech: Qualcomm will fold its current server CPU crew into its mobile phone CPU team.

Will this work? The likes of Oracle and IBM have fine silicon that could do what Qualcomm wants to, but nether have made notable inroads with clouds, carriers or service providers.

Intel will be thrilled by this news as it represents a potential rival walking away from a challenge to its highest-margin business. It’s also a vote of no confidence in Arm-powered silicon as a general-purpose Xeon alternative.

And even if Qualcomm succeeds, Intel will still have all the current x86-using clouds to court for years to come. Even if Qualcomm picks off some parts of AWS or Azure business, Intel still has an in – and a decent argument that its increasingly-user-customisable wares may not match Arm-powered CPUs watt for watt, but can deliver specialisation with less hassle than having Qualcomm whip up whole batches of CPUs for each customer. ®




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